FWC judge resigns over ‘biased’ system

by HCA24 Jan 2017
The Fair Work Commission Vice President Graeme Watson has resigned due to what he believes is a biased system that doesn’t “promote economic prosperity or social inclusion”.

It was reported in The Australian Financial Review that Watson wrote to the Governor-General Peter Cosgrove and said he was formally stepping down as Vice President of the FWC.

Watson had also written a letter to Minister for Employment Michaelia Cash explaining his concerns with the way workplace relations is regulated and administered in Australia.

"I have made this decision because it is increasingly clear to me that the operation of the workplace relations system is actually undermining the objects of the Fair Work legislation," Watson said in his letter to Minister Cash.

"I do not consider that the system provides a framework for co-operative and productive workplace relations and I do not consider that it promotes economic prosperity or social inclusion. Nor do I consider it can be described as balanced.”

Watson plans to work as a private industrial relations consultant to boards and executives, which he said in an attempt to make a greater contribution to "productive workplace relations and national prosperity".

The Australian Mines and Metals Association chief executive Steve Knott said Watson is well respected by all users of Australia’s workplace system and, in almost 10 years’ service to the employment tribunal, has proven to be “fair, objective and pragmatic” in his application of Australia’s workplace relations laws.
 
“While VP Watson’s resignation is a real loss to the Fair Work Commission, of even greater concern is the dysfunction in the tribunal and our workplace laws that has prompted the early resignation of one of its most senior and widely respected members,” said Knott.
 
“This is the second senior FWC member to have recently left the tribunal well before their statutory retirement date. Senior Deputy President Peter Richards, a Howard Government appointee like VP Watson, left in September 2016.

Knott added that the issues raised in the Vice President’s resignation letter add further weight to previous calls from the business community for the government to conduct an urgent review of the Fair Work Commission, its structures, powers and decision making.

“The serious problems identified by VP Watson also reaffirm the importance of the government acting on the Productivity Commission’s 2015 review of Australia’s workplace relations framework, and implementing the majority of its recommendations for reform during 2017,” Knott said.

The AMMA said that many of the concerns outlined by Watson to Minister Cash echo those detailed by AMMA in a letter to the Minister last October. These include:

•    Increasing evidence that the FWC is dysfunctional, not serving users well and appearing to pursue political agendas rather than assisting constructive workplace relations outcomes.
 
•    The growing need for an independent appeals tribunal to ensure greater rigour and consistency in the decisions of the FWC, including that its members respect established Full Bench principles.
 
•    The application of the Fair Work Act’s unfair dismissal and adverse action provisions seeing employees rewarded for making speculative claims against their employers, even where their actions clearly justify dismissal from their workplaces.
 
•    The failure of enterprise bargaining to support productivity and industrial harmony in Australian workplaces, and instead rewarding unions for threatening and taking strike action.
 
•    Increasing instances where the FWC is not approving agreements based on technicalities such as minor typos in forms or documents incorrectly stapled together.

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