The Fair Work Ombudsman’s renewed focus on enforcement is out of step with the brutal realities facing Australian small businesses, according to Employsure, Australia’s largest workplace relations advisor.
The call comes after the Fair Work Ombudsman released its enforcement priorities for 2020-21 which stressed its major focus will be on underpayments, the hospitality sector, horticulture, franchisors and sham contracting.
Notably, the announcement contained no new initiatives designed to educate or support business owners through the current pandemic or guidance to help prevent the sorts of mistakes that draw the ire of the FWO in the first place, an approach that would be much more helpful to a business sector already on its knees.
Employsure Managing Director Ed Mallett said it was disappointing that in the midst of a pandemic and a devastated economy, business owners are being targeted rather than helped.
“The fact that the FWO will be enforcing with a scalpel rather than a sledgehammer this year will be little relief to business owners who are just trying to keep their doors open and keep people employed,” he said.
“Even before COVID-19, Aussie business owners were navigating the most complex industrial relations system in the world. And now, despite everything that is going on in our economy, the national watchdog has chosen this opportunity to focus on enforcement rather than assistance.
“We’ve seen thousands of business owners sign up to JobKeeper and scramble to adapt and pivot their operations to keep people in a job. If nothing else, the past few months has shown that an overwhelming number of Aussie businesses are trying to do the right thing by their employees.
“We know that honest errors and a lack of understanding in trying to navigate the labyrinth we call the Fair Work Act is perhaps the biggest cause of errors amongst Australia’s SME sector.
“What’s missing from the FWO’s list of priorities for 2020-21 is any new approach or programs that could actually help businesses owners from making mistakes in the first place.
“There’s a vague mention of education and resources, but no detail about what that actually includes, and no recognition that business owners are crying out for that support now, not piecemealed over the next 12 months when it might be too late.
“It seems that once again mum and dad operators will have to go it alone, in the midst of a devastating pandemic, with the watchdog breathing down their neck.
“It’s a further sign that the government’s proposed JobMaker reforms must address the complexity of our workplace relations system. As it stands, the Fair Work Act creates no margin for error but then simultaneously punishes businesses for mistakes. The situation is untenable and the time for change has arrived,” Mr Mallett said.