Labor acts on small business dismissals

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Labor acts on small business dismissals

The Howard Government has set the first item on the Labor Party's IR agenda, with the announcement today that the Shadow Cabinet has set up a committee to investigate unfair dismissal laws in relation to small business.

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The Howard Government has set the first item on the Labor Party's IR agenda, with the announcement today that the Shadow Cabinet has set up a committee to investigate unfair dismissal laws in relation to small business.

Shadow IR Minister Robert McClelland told WorkplaceInfo today that while the ALP did not necessarily consider unfair dismissal reform more important than other issues like workers entitlements, and nor had it done any polling on the issue, the Government had played its hand by announcing the reform was first on its legislative agenda next year.

'They've put us on notice, so we're getting ready to bat the ball back,' he said.

While he admitted the Christmas and New Year period was a bad time to be consulting with stakeholders, he said the committee would be meeting with employers and unions in that time - as well as the Democrats, whose vote in the Senate is all-important - to sound them out on potential reform.

McClelland said the Government had no evidence to back up its assertions that exempting small business from the laws would create jobs (see 312001 for more on the subject), but said it 'stood to reason' that making compliance easier made it easier for small businesses to succeed.

He said the aim was not to allow small business employees to be sacked, but to maintain a 'fair go all round'. As part of this, the committee would be investigating in the long-term the setting up of a small business ombudsman to deal with issues around dismissal, and keep cases out of the courts.

He said ideally this person would come from industry as 'the mediation concept involves getting industry on side first' and he foresaw unions accepting that if the right person came forward. 'Most small businesses don't sack someone lightly, but you can't be naïve about these things,' he said, adding that an industry ombudsman might have a powerful tempering effect on employers.

Another option Labor would be canvassing was setting up an informal process for the recovery of award entitlements, similar to a small claims court.

And current application times of 21 days could be expanded - with no time limit advanced yet - if parties were genuinely interested in coming to an agreement. McClelland said he felt the current tight time frame for filing often drove parties to litigation before they had a chance to try conciliation.

The committee - comprised of Crean, McClelland, Small Business Shadow Minister Senator Stephen Conroy, Shadow Industry Minister Craig Emerson and McClelland's parliamentary secretary Senator Joe Ludwig - will report to shadow cabinet by the end of January, so a legislative response is ready to go in February.

 
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