Business groups have welcomed the Federal Government’s plan to review the Fair Work Act, although concerns have been raised over the areas the government will focus on.
A Fair Work review panel will be headed by Reserve Bank board member John Edwards, workplace law guru Ron McCallum and former federal court Judge Michael Moore.
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The Council of Small Business of Australia has welcomed the review, saying it will be an opportunity to focus on the needs of small business owners and their workers.
“We have a workplace relations system that is designed by big business and big unions for experts and paymasters,” COSBOA executive director Peter Strong says.
“No small business owner can get the information we need and often our workers receive different information from Fair Work Australia on wages and conditions.”
COSBOA hopes the three experts chosen for the review will seek separate comment from the small business community and develop a response accordingly, although it has doubts about this.
“We have some concern that the people chosen to run this review are members of the workplace relations club and will come up with an outcome… that is all about big business,” Strong says.
The Australian Retailers Association has also welcomed the review, with executive director Russell Zimmerman looking forward to working with newly-appointed Industrial Relations Minister Bill Shorten.
“In order to achieve growth in the retail sector, employment issues facing the industry need to be addressed, and we are delighted there will be a review,” Zimmerman says.
“Retailers need both the incentive and flexibility to hold onto staff and, at the moment, the legislation doesn’t allow this to happen.”
“ARA looks forward to a real opportunity to address productivity and flexibility issues in the retail workplace.”
According to workplace law expert Peter Vitale, the review needs to consider two key areas – adverse action protections and unfair dismissal provisions.
“Currently, these provisions make it too easy for claims without merit to be made and progress,” Vitale says.
“I think small business in particular needs more of a fighting chance in defending those cases.”
“In particular, the small business unfair dismissal code needs to be reworked, and we need to be able to get more certainty for businesses around the ability to defend marginal claims without merit.”
Vitale says the panel should be careful that it doesn’t focus too much on the big end of town.
“Obviously, big business is concerned with the issues of enterprise bargaining and the whole question of arbitration,” he says.
“But that shouldn’t stop the panel from going into areas that affect small businesses all the time, such as unfair dismissal.”