As foreshadowed by My Business last week, the Fair Work Commission has unveiled a series of changes to its processes that it claims will improve access and reduce complexity. But the business community is not convinced.
In a statement, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) said it had identified five key areas for improvement that will undergo works over the next 12 months.
Labelling the works as its What’s Next program, the FWC said these improvements will involve:
- Providing additional support to self-represented users, particularly at the early stage of dismissal cases.
- Partnering with experts in “behavioural insights”.
- A new case management system, which will have benefits for “one shotters” and repeat players.
- A significant expansion in access to free legal advice, through the expansion of the Workplace Advice Service.
- Developing short summaries of key modern awards and improving agreement processing times.
It follows two reviews into the commission, its powers and processes, following years of complaints by employers – particularly small businesses – about complexity and duplication as well as a perceived “anti-business bias”.
“The principle at the centre of What’s Next is a simple one: listening to, and meeting, the needs of those who use our services,” said FWC president Justice Iain Ross.
“We are determined to ensure the services we provide are efficient, effective and responsive to the expectations of the Australian community.”
‘Measures do not go far enough’
The business community, while pleased that some attempt was being made to address its concerns, said the steps outlined don’t go far enough to avoid constraining business growth.
“We are pleased that workplace relations information essential to small businesses will be provided in plain language, at the time and in the form they need. The overwhelming view is that the fair work legislation is far too complicated and many of the forms and requirements are completely confusing,” said Kate Carnell of the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO) service.
“[But] while the offer of free legal advice in the early stage of contact with the commission will be useful for many small businesses, we need to remember that members of industry associations already have access to legal advice as part of their membership.”
Ms Carnell said it was a positive thing to see that a basic tenet of the FWC overhaul will be to improve its communications with users.
Similarly, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) said the moves were a good start, but that more can be done, stating that “Fair Work should be much fairer to small businesses.”
“We welcome the president’s efforts to help small businesses navigate the unfair dismissal process and early and more personal contact with the commission… but more, much more, needs to be done,” its CEO, James Pearson, said.
“Australia’s workplace relations laws (the Fair Work Act) assume all employers are large, sophisticated, well-resourced and unionised. This is simply not the case for most Australian businesses.
“Almost 60 per cent of small business owners are paid $50,000 or less, well below the average of what Australians earn. Changing processes, information and administration at the Fair Work Commission can only fix part of the problem.”
Mr Pearson urged politicians to do their part to improve the Fair Work Act to make it simpler for both employers and their workers, and align compensation and awards to the size of the business.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.