The Elephant in the Room

The Australian managing Director of Rio Tinto, David Peever says that the Fair Work Act is the elephant in the room when it comes to the productivity debate in Australia.

Heather Ridout, who used to be the head of the Australian Industry Group and is now on the Reseve Bank board said on a recent Q & A programme that the “Fair Work Act gives 120 new rights to unions and nothing to employers”. On the same programme,  Judith Sloan, an economist and commentator suggested that it was ironic that the Act assumes that the right of unions is paramount when it comes to work place contracts but only 13% of the private work sector belong to unions.

Calls by industry leaders for a more flexible, productive and fair work place relations system are becoming more strident.

Perhaps the Government has heard the calls.  There are amendments proposed to the Fair Work Act involving an overhaul of the costs provisions.  Under the proposed changes, Fair Work Australia will have new powers to make cost orders against Applicants who bring “unreasonable claims”.

At the moment, it is most unlikely that, if an applicant fails in Fair Work Australia, he or she will have to pay the employer’s costs.  This is because the employer must make application for costs swiftly and, more importantly, must demonstrate that the applicant’s proceedings were manifestly untenable or brought vexatiously.

It is understood that, under the costs regime proposed, an employer will be able to recover its costs if the applicant’s claim is unreasonable.  This is still not the way things work in other litigation concerning breach of contract or statutory obligation, where costs  follow the event unless the circumstances are exceptional.

The commentators suggest that the proposed changes to the costs regime will provide some relief for small business.  It is hoped that it will enable litigation in Fair Work Australia to be conducted more efficiently and drive early resolution.

Costs aside, the best way for a small business to protect itself from unmeritorious claims is to implement fair and compliant dismissal processes.  The employment team at Everingham Solomons can help with dismissal issues because at Everingham Solomons Helping You is Our Business.

Click here for more information on Mark Johnson.

The Employment Contract Checklist

jmhMany employers use employment contracts that are out-dated, or may not have employment contracts for their staff at all. Are the employment contracts your business uses up to scratch?

Employers need to ensure their employment contracts comply with the current legal requirements. This means contracts need to be compliant with the National Employment Standards and the applicable Modern Award.

The National Employment Standards provide for minimum entitlements, such as hours of work, leave entitlements, flexible working arrangements and more.

For example, Business Pty Ltd is employing a new full-time administrative assistant. All Business Pty Ltd’s full-time staff work a 40 hour week. Business Pty Ltd has been using the same style employment contract since 2003. The employment contract states that the new administrative assistant must work 40 hours per week, and anything more than that is considered overtime.

Business Pty Ltd hasn’t realised that the National Employment Standards provide that full-time employees are to work a maximum of 38 hours per week. While an extra 2 hours work per week will likely be considered to be ‘reasonable additional hours’ which the employer may reasonably ask the employee to work, the appropriate award overtime provisions will apply to those 2 hours.

For example, if the new administrative assistant will be covered by the Clerks – Private Sector Award, then he or she will need to be paid time and a half for those extra 2 hours of work every week.

Business Pty Ltd needs to ensure that their employment contract is amended to meet these minimum requirements.

So, are the employment contracts your business uses up to scratch?

The Employment Law team at Everingham Solomons is well equipped to assist you with all your workplace relations issues from contracts of employment and policy updates to termination of employees, redundancy correspondence and warning letters because Helping You is Our Business.

Click here for more information on Jessica Simmonds.