Confusion over which Fair Work is which

by Stephanie Zillman19 Apr 2012

The national workplace relations watchdog should be renamed because there are too many entities with the name ‘Fair Work’ in the title, and as a result of being brought into disrepute over the Craig Thomson investigation, the head of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) has said.

Peter Anderson said after the bungled investigation into the allegations surrounding Labor MP Craig Thomson and his former role at the Health Services Union, the workplace arbitrator has lost the confidence of many in the business community – and should be renamed to save face. “I don't enjoy the institution that exercises economic power over my members being the butt of jokes,” Anderson said.

During a speech in Canberra this week, the industry group head called on the Fair Work Act Review Panel to recommend the abolition of Fair Work Australia as the operating name for the institution. Anderson said the similarities between the watchdogs’ name, the Federal Government's industrial relations legislation – the Fair Work Act – and the Fair Work Ombudsman is problematic and another reason to scrap the name. “[A person] could be forgiven for thinking it [the ombudsman] is just an arm of Fair Work Australia rather than an independent inspectorate,” he said.

FWO and FWA – what’s the difference?

The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) and Fair Work Australia (FWA) are the two main organisations in Australia’s workplace relations system. Each has different functions within that system.

The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO)

The Fair Work Ombudsman is a statutory office created by the Fair Work Act 2009. The Fair Work Ombudsman’s jurisdiction is set out in the Fair Work Act, and operates independently of Government, making its own decisions about all investigations.

The Fair Work Ombudsman’s functions include promoting productive and cooperative workplace relations and ensuring compliance with Commonwealth workplace laws. The services of the Fair Work Ombudsman are free to all workers and employers in Australia.

As an independent statutory agency, the FWO:
 

  • educates both employers and employees about their workplace rights and obligations via their call centre and website
  • investigates breaches of workplace rights
  • takes cases to Court to enforce workplace laws.

Nicholas Wilson is the current Fair Work Ombudsman who appoints Fair Work Inspectors. Inspectors are empowered to investigate possible breaches of workplace laws and enforce compliance with them. They don’t act on behalf of either employees or employers and are impartial in their investigations. The Fair Work Ombudsman can take suspected breaches of workplaces law to a federal court.

Fair Work Australia (FWA)

FWA is the independent national workplace relations tribunal. It makes decisions about the national minimum wage and can create and change modern awards.Justice Iain Ross AO is the current President of FWA.

FWA hears workplace related matters initiated by individuals or organisations and makes decisions about many workplace matters, including:
 

  • unfair dismissal
  • industrial action
  • equal pay
  • transfer of business
  • right of entry
  • enterprise bargaining

 

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