BUSINESS CHAMPION: Ombudsman Kate Carnell plays an important role. Photo Matthew Deans
If the latest paper on small business workplace relations is anything to go by then SME’s are assured they have a champion in Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudswoman (ASBFEO), Kate Carnell.
Her department’s paper summarises a two-year consultation with small business, family enterprises and industry associations which found a unanimous need for workplace relations systems to be simplified and restore confidence in small business to employ.
Ninety-nine per cent of Australian businesses fall into the small and medium-sized business (SME) category, steering a $380 billion economic ship and employing more than 5.5 million people.
Under current requirements, however, business owners frequently let go of the steering wheel to focus on navigating the hidden reefs in the Fair Work Act 2009 in order to meet operational, legislative and administrative workplace relations obligations so that they do not become the source of danger.
Under-resourced to afford HR or legal expert hire, or establish internal “departments” to chart their financial course, small business owners’ time is being swamped by compliance.
The ASBFEO are therefore proposing practical, non-legislative approaches and legislative changes to cut the proverbial red tape.
As you may appreciate our Chamber is passionate about keeping things simple for small business in our region so you can get on with business.
We welcome the fresh, practical ideas raised in the new paper and do our best to add your voice to the debate by monitoring the progress of it’s recommendations.
Proposed improvements to the system include the further development of the Fair Work Ombudsman’s (FWO) Small Business Showcase.
This entails an online decision-making and pay calculation tool as evidence of compliance, possibly in collaboration with accounting software providers, similar to the single touch payroll initiative by the ATO.
The Showcase would identify correct awards for small business so they don’t have to list in plain language what should be paid and generate a pay slip and tax to be withheld.
A genuinely compliant small business which does make an error then has a ‘safe harbour’ from prosecution, penalty or fine, though must repay underpayments.
The Ombudsman’s paper also recommends unfair dismissal claims be substantiated before elevation and dismissal claims not be judged solely on procedural errors.
It’s recommended a review of the Small Business Fair Dismissal Code be undertaken to simplify it and remove ambiguity.
Extending the Fair Work Ombudsman’s employers’ support line beyond standard business hours and a dedicated, consistent resource centre providing understandable and reliable advice for small businesses, be established.
Legislative changes include establishing a streamlined, appropriate small business Enterprise Bargaining Agreement as an option for some businesses.
For a full explanation of the proposals made in the Workplace Relations – Simplification For Small Business, visit www.asbfeo.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/ASBFEO-workplace-relations-simplification.pdf