Govt plays first IR hand


Govt plays first IR hand

The federal Government has started laying its IR cards on the table with the announcement it will introduce small business unfair dismissal and redundancy laws.


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The federal Government has started laying its IR cards on the table with the announcement it will introduce small business unfair dismissal and redundancy laws.


The proposed new laws seek to exempt small businesses from unfair dismissal laws and making redundancy payments.


The government is also seeking to pass laws that only allow clauses, that pertain to the employment relationship, to be included in federally certified agreements.


The ACTU has rejected the government’s plans outright. ‘Almost five million small business employees will have fewer rights and could suffer more bullying and harassment at work if the Howard Government succeeds in pushing its workplace changes through the Senate,’ ACTU president Sharan Burrow said.


The ALP Shadow IR Minister Stephen Smith has been widely reported as saying he would have to assess the Bills before making a judgement. However, if the small business Bill was the same as the Bill that has been rejected 41 times in previous parliaments then he would not be supporting it.


The proposed laws


Under the Workplace Relations Amendment (Fair Dismissal) Bill, small businesses hiring fewer than 20 employees will be exempt from federal unfair dismissal laws.


Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews said the Bill is in response to a Melbourne Institute study which found that current unfair dismissal laws cost 77,000 jobs.


The Workplace Relations Amendment (Protecting Small Business) Bill seeks to override the recent AIRC Redundancy Test Case decision which ordered that redundancy payouts be made to small business employees. 


The proposed federal certified agreements law is in response to the recent High Court ruling that federally certified agreements can only contain clauses that relate to the employment relationship.


Andrews said the ruling implies that existing certified agreements, which contain clauses that don’t pertain to the employment relationship, may now be invalid. ‘The Australian Government will ensure the certainty of current agreements.’


However, the laws will ensure that future agreements cannot be renegotiated once the bargaining is finalised. ‘The Government is determined to ensure agreements entered into by business are upheld and enforced,’ Andrews said.


No evidence


ACTU’s Burow said there is no evidence that unfair dismissal laws cost jobs. In a recent Commonwealth survey only 1% of small business said unfair dismissal laws were a reason for not hiring more employees. Also, less than 0.3% of small business experienced an unfair dismissal claim.


She said restricting small business employees access to unfair dismissal laws was a ‘green light’ for employers to treat employees unfairly and dismiss them at their whim.

The redundancy provisions are just as harsh, she added. ‘Up to 100,000 people working in small businesses are retrenched every year and they face an average of five months unemployment (22 weeks),’ she said.

‘People are working in small business for up to twenty years and yet if they are unlucky enough to be laid off they walk away with nothing unless there is redundancy pay. The fact is around 70% of businesses are profitable when they make people redundant and downsize.’

Burrow was unclear on what the government meant by validating existing agreements. She wanted certainty.

The laws are expected to be introduced when Parliament resumes later this month.


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