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When introducing Australia’s new workplace relations system earlier this month at the National Press Club in Canberra, Workplace Minister Julia Gillard announced that small business operators will soon be able to dismiss workers after just one verbal warning in compliance with a short checklist.

The new workplace relations system will come into force on 1 January 2010, and has been designed to offer relief from the problematic Work Choices. The new framework will come into force six months earlier, on 1 July 2009.

“Our new laws will bring some good old-fashioned common sense and balance to the issue of unfair dismissal,” said Gillard, acknowledging the red tape currently associated with unfair dismissal and it’s impact on small business owners. Of business owners, Gillard says: “They should be allowed to get on with running their businesses, making a profit and giving people jobs.”

The Labor-Rudd government’s new Fair Dismissal Code for Small Business also states that an employee of a company of fewer than 15 employees can only claim unfair dismissal after being employed with the company for a minimum of 12 months.

“Twelve months is more than enough time for employees to prove they are up to a job,” said Gillard. “Once they are tried and tested, they deserve protection from unfair treatment.” The new system raises the issue of staff performance, an issue particularly pertinent to those operating small businesses in these cash-strapped times.

This new system sees the abandonment of the traditional “three strikes and you’re out” policy – instead, employees are entitled to a single warning (which can be verbal) and “reasonable opportunity” to improve their performance.

Despite the ambiguity associated with the “reasonable opportunity” clause, many SME owners have welcomed the change, while it has been largely criticised by union and employee groups, saying that workers in small business deserve the same rights as those in large business.

The whole process will be overseen by Fair Work Australia, which Gillard describes as a “new independent umpire with teeth.” A startling image for some, a welcome relief for others, “Fair Work Australia will act as a one-stop shop for information, advice and assistance of workplace issues.”

Published on: Sunday, September 07, 2008

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