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Fair Work Ombudsman throws in the towel

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By David Bates

For more than seven years now, the team at Workforce Guardian has consistently described Australia’s so-called ‘Fair Work’ laws as ‘hopelessly complex’. We’ve backed this claim by comparing Australia’s workplace relations system with those in comparable jurisdictions such as New Zealand, the UK, and Europe.

Only here do we maintain an archaic system of over 100 ‘Awards’ which baffle and befuddle small business owners.

Only here do we force employers to sift through ‘Pay Guides’ – some almost 200 pages long – to determine how much employees need to be paid.

Only here do we allow former trade union officials with no legal qualification to sit as judge and jury at an employment tribunal which we know – thanks to the frank admission of former Fair Work Commission Vice President Graeme Watson – is widely regarded as ‘partisan’ and ‘dysfunctional’.

So, isn’t a relief we have a Commonwealth tax payer-funded agency responsible for ‘educating people working in Australia about fair work practices, rights and obligations’.

Well, it would be a relief if that agency actually did its job.

It doesn’t.

And the proof is in the incredibly high rates of non-compliance with our (hopelessly complex) employment laws which are consistently confirmed by the Fair Work Ombudsman itself.

Think 7-11 underpayment scandal. Think Pizza Hut scandal. Think general incompetence.

And now, it seems, the Fair Work Ombudsman has simply decided educating employers about their obligations is all just too hard. So, instead, the agency responsible for educating employers is going to force advisors to business – bookkeepers, accountants, HR consultants – to do their job for them.

They’re doing this by increasing their reliance on section 550 of the Fair Work Act, which allows the Ombudsman to prosecute anyone who is ‘knowingly involved’ in a breach of the Fair Work Act.

This remarkable section even extends liability where the party accused of being knowingly involved in the breach indirectly didn’t do something (yes, you read that right). This is because the section expressly states an advisor to business can be prosecuted as an ‘accessory’ as a result of a direct or indirect act or omission.

Rather than doing the job it was set up to do, the Fair Work Ombudsman is going to force business advisors to do it for them under threat of prosecution as an accessory if the employer isn’t fully-compliant with Australia’s (hopelessly complex) employment laws.

Raising the white flag of surrender … the latest chapter in the debacle that is the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Published: Thursday, March 09, 2017


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