On last week’s Switzer programme on the Sky News Business Channel, I once again raised serious concerns about Australia’s national workplace relations tribunal, the Fair Work Commission.
Towards the end of my interview, I confirmed Better HR would this week be sending an open letter to the Employment Minister, The Hon Senator Michaelia Cash, calling on her to commit to the appointment of new Commissioners who have actually run a small business and directly employed workers.
My point was that far too many Commissioners – who are appointed by the Government of the day until they turn 65 on incredibly generous salaries – are either former trade union officials (with no private sector experience or legal qualifications) or former employer association advocates from the top end of town. For years we’ve been concerned by this lack of diversity at the Commission.
Well, we’ll still be writing to the Minister, but now she won’t just need to take our word that the Commission is not operating as it should.
In a scathing letter of resignation made public today, one of the Commission’s most senior members – Vice President Watson – has told the Minister he can no longer continue to perform his role. He writes that the Commission is viewed by the business community as “partisan, dysfunctional and divided”.
He goes on to criticise almost every aspect of the Commission’s current operations, and notes that for employers unlucky enough to be dragged before the Commission, the process of defending themselves is “â€¦a penalty in itself.”
And in his most damning paragraph, he writes: “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.”
Put another way, VP Watson’s letter of resignation proves beyond any lingering doubt that each and every one of the criticisms we have levelled at the Commission in recent years has been justified.
Rest assured we’ll be continuing our calls for both urgent reform of the Commission and the appointment of new Commissioners from a more diverse range of professional backgrounds.
David Bates BA (Govt) LL.B (Hons)
Watch recent Sky News interview:
Related quotes from Vice-President Watson letters:
â— “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,”
â— “Undergoing a defence of a claim, especially with an unpredictable outcome, has made the process a penalty in itself,”
â— “The impact of an uncertain disciplinary regime on productivity and operational performance compounds the penalty on business.”