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This week: my ‘top three’ priorities as Workplace Relations Minister for a day.

Workplace Relations Minister for a day

David Bates
9 April 2014

by David Bates

A few weeks ago I was invited to speak at a HR conference where, consistent with the views I’ve previously expressed in this blog, I challenged the fairness of the Fair Work Act 2009 and suggested that the Fair Work Commission (FWC) and Modern Awards are simply not fit for purpose.

This prompted one conference attendee to ask: what would you do if you were the Minister for a day?…and that seriously got me thinking! While I sincerely doubt much gets done in our federal bureaucracy in just one day, but there’s plenty I’d make a start on in the first 24 hours. This week: my ‘top three’ priorities as Workplace Relations Minister for a day:

1. Remove Small Business from the Fair Work Act

Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy, especially in rural and regional parts of our country. They employee our people, support families and hold communities together. Yet the same laws that apply to our largest multinationals also apply to our smallest businesses, even though they have virtually nothing in common. My first priority would be to remove small businesses from this hopelessly complex legislation while maintaining employee entitlements.

2. Abolish Modern Awards

Our ‘Awards’ system is unique in the world. NZ got rid of theirs a long time ago, and no other country in the world goes out of its way to impose terms and conditions upon employers in certain industries and occupations that make it harder for those businesses to succeed. While lawyers and commissioners make a small fortune tinkering with Awards and debating minute details, employers have no idea about them and they are hopelessly complex. I’d take steps to abolish them while beefing up the safety net for workers.

3. Reform the Fair Work Commission

The FWC is the old ‘Fair Work Australia’. Which is the old ‘Industrial Relations Commission’. Which is the old ‘Conciliation and Arbitration Commission’… Changing its name hasn’t made it any fairer, any more relevant, any more respected, or any more useful. It’s the ultimate dream of union officials with no legal qualifications to be appointed a commissioner by their friends in Parliament. It’s a bureaucracy that delivers poor service and costs a small fortune to run. The rules of evidence don’t apply there and, with its ‘no costs’ basis, it’s a haven for vexatious litigants and aggrieved employees. It needs urgent reform.

While these three priorities wouldn’t change the world, they’d give Australian employers a fighting chance against the endless red-tape, union malpractice and understandable confusion which undermine productivity, free-enterprise and opportunity. In short, they’d be worthwhile first steps in the right direction.

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