Small wins for business on unfair dismissal laws leave employer groups wanting more

Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten today offered limited relief on unfair dismissal laws to business but the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry says the reforms are unlikely to go far enough.

Shorten attended a meeting of the National Workplace Relations Consultative Council in Melbourne today, and following the meeting he announced the Federal Government will initially implement only limited changes to the Fair Work Act review panel backed by unions and employers.

The government will implement 17 of the 53 suggested changes including reducing the time for lodging unfair dismissal applications to 21 days so after then “everyone knows where they stand” and changing the name of Fair Work Australia.

The government-supported changes to unfair dismissal laws include amending the law to allow Fair Work Australia to make costs orders against a party that has unreasonably failed to discontinue an unfair dismissal proceeding or has unreasonably failed to agree to the terms of a settlement.

Orders would also apply to a party that has caused the other party to incur costs through an unreasonable act or omission.

“The government has … decided to proceed with amendments to the Fair Work Act to immediately implement recommendations that are broadly supported, including a number of technical amendments, while continuing to consult with stakeholders on the remaining recommendations as I have previously committed to doing,” Shorten said in a statement today. 

“The amendments I have announced today also include important recommendations covering unfair dismissal and structural arrangements and processes for Fair Work Australia.

“Whilst the government is committed to introducing these amendments to parliament this year we will continue to talk with all stakeholders with a view to implementing our response to independent review panel’s remaining recommendations,” Shorten said.

He defended the time taken by the government to make changes to the law and said he plans to undertake further negotiations over the coming months to try to win agreement from unions and employers on disputed recommendations, including limits on strike action.

Peter Anderson, chief executive of the ACCI, told SmartCompany the business community was unlikely to support the limited reforms proposed by Shorten.

“A decision by the government to limit changes to matters that the trade union movement agrees is not going to be acceptable to the non-unionised small business community. The concerns with the fair work laws have been well explained to the government and its panel and many of those concerns have been accepted by the independent panel as valid,” Anderson says.

“In those circumstances the business community will expect its government to move sooner rather than later, given that the consultative process has already taken 10 months.”


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