In an article published in the AFR today (9 October 2019) COSBOA CEO Peter Strong noted that the system is now proven to be too complicated when the likes of Wesfarmers, Bunnings and the ABC can’t get it right and have to pay millions of dollars to employees who have been underpaid.
Mr Strong stated “to hear the Fair Work Ombudsman now aggressively target businesses who self-regulate and admit to underpayment and undertake remedial action is concerning. The fact that the system is so complicated that even large expert teams cannot get it right is not a reason for the regulator to target directors and boards who have acted constructively and honestly but is a reason to demand the system be simplified. (See note below)”
COSBOA commends the approach by the Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter to systematically update the workplace relations system and make it work for both workers and employers, particularly small business employers. Mr Porter recently stated that the government will, step by step, identify and resolve the problems that currently exist by engaging with the business community and with unions. We in the world of small business just want the system to be less complicated and easy to understand for us and our employees. We should all want compliance to be easy.
The winners from a simplified system will be everyone except for those who deliberately rort the system. The rorters will find it more difficult to trick employees and more difficult to dodge the regulator.
The regulator should be praising those businesses who self-diagnose and then constructively fix the mistake and compensate those affected. The FWO can then can spend more time targeting those who are deliberate in their underpayments.
It should be noted that the law firm Maurice Blackburn has also underpaid workers and those who call for jail for underpayments should ask which Maurice Blackburn partner will go to jail?
Note: The FWO has signaled that self-disclosure will no longer be enoughwhen it comes to wage underpayment. The ombudsman has stated that as a minimum, the business will be required to enter into court-enforceable undertakings, which will involve multi-year external audit plans, training programs, contrition payments and a condition to publicly apologise to the community. Businesses that don’t cooperate could face litigation.
COSBOA: It would be easier and fairer to make the system simpler rather than punish those who do the right thing. This approach sends the wrong message to honest transparent businesses.