Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten has announced long-awaited changes to the Fair Work Act which will see a new 21-day time limit for lodging unfair dismissal claims. The changes will also empower Fair Work Australia to dismiss some claims from the outset.
The Government made the announcement in response to the Fair Work Act review panel’s recommendations, and Shorten commented that the changes will crack down on ‘vexatious’ claims made against small business operators.
“Whilst we accept that the system is working very well, we accept the proposition that we need to provide absolute certainty for small and medium-sized enterprises so that claims which are without merit, if they continue to be pursued, can either be dismissed or alternatively the person making the claim...that they should carry the risk of paying the costs,” Shorten said in Melbourne yesterday.
The proposed changes are a significant win for employers – the new uniform 21-day time limit will streamline the process which currently ranges from 14 to 60 days in which to lodge a claim.
The changes are part of a number of reforms to how Fair Work Australia operates. It is also likely that the government will enact a name change to the Fair Work Commission, with the purpose of making the separation between Fair Work Australia's adjudicative powers and its administrative functions more clear.
Yet from the 53 recommendations put forward by the review panel, Shorten’s announcement responded to just 17.
The Australian Industry Group (AI Group) chief Innes Willox supported the name change and the uniform 21-days for lodging unfair dismissal claims, but said the changes announced yesterday aren’t enough. “The Government's first tranche legislative response to the Fair Work Act Review is useful but it does not touch the sides on the most important issues," Willox said in a statement. He said the government has so far failed to more tightly define the issues which can be the subject of bargaining claims, did not address unions holding employers to ransom over greenfields agreements for new projects, implement more effective framework for Individual Flexibility Arrangements, or fix the “poorly drafted” general protections and transfer of business laws. "The first tranche announced today does not deal with any of these vital issues and this is very disappointing,” Willox said.
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