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It's time for a Modern Award for Small Business

If Australians knew how much time and money was spent by lawyers, lobbyists, unions and the Fair Work Commission reviewing, discussing, tinkering-with, and interpreting the 122 hopelessly complex 'Modern Awards' that strangle our workplaces, they'd be horrified.

Of course, the main reason so few Australians (including the employers who are legally responsible for complying with them) know about the money being wasted is because they've never heard of Modern Awards. It comes as a complete surprise to them when they discover they've been legally bound to pay certain allowances, restrict certain working hours, pay certain penalty rates and provide many other 'minimum entitlements' since Modern Awards were rolled out on 1 January 2010.

It makes you realise just how pointless all that reviewing, discussing, tinkering-with and interpreting really is.

By far the two biggest reasons employers remain blissfully ignorant of Modern Awards are (1) it's often extremely difficult to find which Modern Award (or Awards) apply to their business and (2) the Awards often imposes conditions (such as penalty rates) which would cripple their business if they were implemented (which, by law, they must be).

This is why Workforce Guardian passionately supports the introduction of a Modern Award specifically for the backbone of the Australian economy: small businesses. A small business-specific Modern Award would provide many immediate and tangible benefits to both employers and our national economy, including:

  • > Immediately removing all doubt around which of the 122 Modern Awards applies to a business
  • > Recognising that small businesses need greater flexibility in order to be profitable
  • > Removing unnecessary regulation and complexity
  • > Encouraging small businesses to hire, train and retain employees
  • > Creating confidence and certainty around employment rights and responsibilities
  • > Ensuring a uniform set of laws for all small businesses right across the country, and
  • > Making it easier for the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) to enforce the laws

To be clear, we are not advocating the 'stripping away' of all employee entitlements or a 'return to Workchoices'. Instead, we propose a wholesale simplification of the laws for small business by way of a dedicated Modern Award that maintains a strong and fair safety net for employees. As the Government busily focusses on the repeal of useless laws and the cutting of red tape, we say the rollout of a clear, simply and fair Modern Award for small businesses should be item one on the agenda.

If you're still not convinced, ask yourself this question: Is it right, fair, or even logical for the little shop on your corner to be bound by the same Modern Award that applies to Australia's largest retailers?

Published: Wednesday, April 24, 2014

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