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Calm consideration needed in complex workplace compliance debate

"In the current public debate about whether businesses have done enough to ensure compliance with Australia’s extremely complex workplace relations system, calm consideration is needed about any potential changes," Ai Group Chief Executive, Innes Willox, said today.

"The fact is that Australia has by far the most complex workplace relations system in the world. For example, we are the only country in the world that has an award system, and the only country in the world with a few thousand legally enforceable rates of pay.

"Another fact is that there are already very heavy penalties in place for breaches of awards. The maximum penalties for breaching awards and the National Employment Standards were increased tenfold two years ago and twentyfold for breaches of payslip and pay record requirements.

"A further fact is that there is already a small claims jurisdiction in the Fair Work Act. It was never abolished and so the ACTU's call for the small claims system to be brought back makes no sense.

"Also, the ACTU's proposal to give the Fair Work Commission the power to deal with underpayments, breaches the separation of powers in the Australian Constitution as determined in the High Court’s Boilermakers Case in 1956 (in which Ai Group’s predecessor organisation was the respondent). In this case, the High Court held that the predecessor tribunal to the Fair Work Commission could not exercise judicial powers because these powers can only be exercised by a relevant Court. The Commission does not have the power to order employers to make back-payments and it cannot impose penalties. The relevant provisions in the Constitution have not changed since 1956.

"Another relevant fact is that the directors of a company can be held liable for breaches of awards by a company under the accessorial liability provisions in section 550 of the Fair Work Act. There have been many cases where penalties have been imposed on directors. There is no case for further change in this area at all.

"Another fact is that the vast majority of businesses do the right thing and if errors are discovered they quickly remedy them," Mr Willox said.

 

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Tony Melville – 0419 190 347