Small businesses say they get “screwed” by Fair Work Commission as former PM labels tribunal “anti jobs”

Government ministers have weighed in on a heated debate over the effectiveness of the Fair Work Commission after vice-president Graeme Watson resigned with claims the body is “dysfunctional”.

Watson notified the Governor-General that he was quitting on Friday, and in a letter to Employment Minister Michaelia Cash said he did not believe the commission promoted “economic prosperity or social inclusion”, according to a Fairfax report.

Overnight former Prime Minister Tony Abbott gave his two cents, tweeting the resignation shows the workplace tribunal as being “pro-union and anti-jobs”.

Meanwhile, Liberal Senator Eric Abetz told Fairfax this morning the commission needs to use the news of Watson’s resignation to take “a very close look” at its operations.

Watson’s criticisms of the commission’s work include the unpredictability of decisions on unfair dismissal cases. Yesterday SmartCompany readers voiced their concern on this issue, with some employers saying they are being “screwed” and they feel Fair Work is “incredibly biased against them”.

“Please let us run our business without the constant threat of blackmail hanging over our heads,” said one commenter on SmartCompany on Monday.

Another expressed concern about Fair Work’s approach to businesses when employees lodged unfair dismissal proceedings, claiming she had seen a case in which an employer paid a staff member who had been involved in a number of OH&S breaches prior to termination in order to resolve a claim that the business had acted unfairly.

“Complete scam and we pay for this body out of our taxes,” she said.

Read more: The unfair dismissal trends your business needs to know

Peter Strong, chief executive of the Council of Small Business of Australia chief executive, said on Monday the commission needs to find leaders who understand the concerns of small business, and acknowledge that employers are not all “nasty people”.

He also called for a panel to decide on independent appointments to the commission, rather than the current government-appointed model.

“Then we should have an assessment process for performance of commissioners, where every year, each commissioner has a performance review,” Strong said.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive James Pearson said yesterday Watson’s resignation highlights concerns that the commission is out of touch with the business community.

“Employers and employees are left worse off when our workplace relations system delivers outcomes that are out of touch with the realities of running a business,” he said.

In 2015, the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into the workplace relations framework looked at the way commissioners are appointed to the Fair Work Commission and made a number of recommendations.

These included the possibility of introducing 10-year appointment terms for new members, and establishing an independent “Workplace Standards Commission” to look at minimum wage and awards decisions.

Senator Abetz told Fairfax this week he supports introducing an appellate board at the Fair Work Commission. This was something the Abbott government considered when elected in 2013, but plans were shelved before anything solid was implemented.

SmartCompany readers said yesterday they feel at odds with the commission because it does not acknowledge the costs to SMEs of poor performing or vindictive employees taking unfair dismissal cases to Fair Work.

“The toxic employees destroy moral and the productivity of the firm,” one reader said.

The business community was already watching the Fair Work Commission’s movements closely, with an imminent decision due from the commission on whether to bring Sunday penalty rates in line with Saturday rates. A final call on the issue is expected in early 2017.

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