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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Rohan Baker
Rohan Baker
4 years ago

Drain the Billabong.

4 years ago

I’ve been in business for 15 yrs, some of those years have just about broken me financially and mentally, but i kept persisting. I now have a profitable business and great employees, but for some reason I want to get out while I’m ahead. This is what the current business environment does to you, it just wears you down, even when things are going well, you fell like you’re just one mistake from losing the lot. There are just to many things working against us and I cant see anything changing in the near future.

Michael Ratner
Michael Ratner
4 years ago

Isn’t it amazing that in this particular case Fair Work bumbled along for quite some time attracting numerous comments from those in business cowering behind the power that this mob had.
It’s like no one gave a damn until it took the courage of Graeme Watson to resign and now all the quasi experts come out of the woodwork and actually discuss the issue and even agree with the deficiencies and recommend change…….
That’s why the buck passing, too hard basket, mind your own business, self interested, expense rorting people we look up to, to be doing their jobs.
Bill Shorten is certainly doing his. He is leader of the opposition and does oppose everything.
So this is the reason why Pauline Hanson is gaining the momentum she is.
And hooray for Donald Trump.

4 years ago

This article doesn’t even mention the thousands of unfair dismissal claims that are settled out of the FWC. Employers pay “go away” money all the time. Even if the Employer thinks they have a good chance of winning it is cheaper to pay the employee to go away then run it in court. Some actual data needs to be collected about this. The whole Unfair Dismissal system needs an overhaul. The idea that Employers have the upper hand is false. Employees have access to as much legal advice as they want and online resources telling them how to claim. Even the FWA has an “Unfair Dismissal Eligibility Quiz” for employees. Its hard enough to run a small business but when you can’t get rid of someone who is clearly not working out, for whatever reason, its enough to send a business broke. Small business people are real people too. Disgruntled employees turn other employees against the boss and try to upset customers so they don’t return. The Employer simply cannot sack them on the spot – they have to follow the “Fair Dismissal Code” which can take literally months, be very time consuming and extremely costly.

4 years ago

Yes the FWC needs a revamp and procedures reviewed. Funnily enough I think the title of this article should be FWC screws employees.

I have always felt that they were biased and working for employers as opposed to supporting employee. Bizarre comment from a reader that is quoted in the article mentioning ‘toxic employees’, how rude and disgusting!!

Example #1
If an employee is on above award wages why should they not receive any help from the FWC?
One employer I know of didn’t pay a staff member for the last 3 months they worked, unfairly dismissed them, and when the case was taken to the FWC and then mediation occurred with all parties, the employer swore, was abusive and rude. The employer won the case and didn’t have to pay the employee anything due to the fact the employee was on above award wages! How is this fair?

So whilst I understand it’s tough for small business’s how about you do the right thing by your employees, pay them fairly, treat them well and you will have good loyal staff.

The government needs to provide better concessions for small business to help them.

Example # 2
I have seen employers in hospitality who don’t pay staff fairly, don’t pay their superannuation, and it’s common that when an employee leaves employment they rarely pay tax or super on the last payments, never mind the regular superannuation payments due during employment. Often employees don’t think to check online with their superannuation company as they should.

Also if an employee has not been in employment with the employer for more than a year the FWC is not really interested in listening to them, and it appears they have no rights. As another example, employees in hospitality move around a lot due to hostile work environments, under payment and shoddy work practices.

Considering the earnings of a small business can go up to 1 million before the next tax bracket is absurd. Most small business start up with under 100K and yet are in same tax bracket as the ones earning close to a million.

Slightly going off track here but I am compassionate to employers as well providing they do the right thing. Perhaps they would if the government made it easier on them. It’s a flow on effect.

Bring on the revamp of the FWC! Employees do not get looked after like they do with unions.

My 10c