Businesses are critical of the limited change to unfair dismissal provisions announced by the Federal Government yesterday, claiming unions have been effectively given a “veto right” on reform.
Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten announced the government would implement 17 of the 53 proposed reforms, including reforms which put a time limit on lodging unfair dismissal claims and imposed cost implications for vexatious claims without merit.
However, the government put more controversial reforms on hold until next year, with Shorten defending the delay as part of the consultation process.
“There is pressure on me from both employers and unions to rule certain things in, to rule certain things out. But what was pleasing today is that whilst some would like me to move in one direction more quickly, or some would like me to move in another direction more quickly, everyone accepts this is a government who consulted well,” Shorten said yesterday announcing the changes.
Business groups say the government has had enough time to consult and should have acted.
Peter Anderson, chief executive of the ACCI, told SmartCompany the government had already spent 10 months consulting and needed to act.
“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.
The Australian Retailers Association was also critical of the scope of the government reforms.
“As with most major employer groups, the ARA sees these changes as a positive, but would like to see further changes and improvements,” ARA executive director Russell Zimmerman said.
“The unions cannot be given a veto on these most important amendments, which are essential for the Australian economy and the preservation of productive and competitive workplaces.”
Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox characterised the government’s response as “useful” but warned it failed to engage with the most important issues.
Willox said the big priorities for the Fair Work Act review were more tightly defining the issues which can be the subject of bargaining claims; “stopping unions holding employers to ransom over greenfields agreements for new projects”; implementing a more effective framework for Individual Flexibility Arrangements; and fixing what Willox says are “poorly drafted” general protections and transfer of business laws.
“The first tranche announced today does not deal with any of these vital issues and this is very disappointing,” he says.
However, Peter Strong, executive director of the Council of Small Business Australia, told SmartCompany he is happy with the government’s response, describing it as “quite a good result”.
“The reforms they are holding out on are the complicated ones which are really between big business and the unions. It is their classic area of conflict,” Strong says.
“At small business level we don’t have strikes and lockouts, we are not unionised, we are just trying to work together.”
He says criticisms of the consultation time taken by the government reflected the views of big business: “When they go too fast they only consult with big business and the unions.”