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The Fair Work laws: is blissful ignorance saving the day?

Recent events have got me thinking…what if the only reason our economy keeps ticking along is because most people are just ignoring the hopelessly complex Fair Work laws?

Recently I spoke at a conference where the audience was comprised of around 100 small business owners. My presentation was all about the key things every employer needs to know about the Fair Work laws and Modern Awards. So, at the outset, I asked the audience to put up their hands if they could name two or more of the ten National Employment Standards (NES). No one put up their hand.

I decided to take a step back and asked people to put up their hands if they could at least describe what the NES are all about. Anyone? Anyone? No.

How about this question instead: 'What is a Modern Award?'. Given that every business owner in the room employed workers in an industry which only has one major Modern Award, the lack of hands in the air was both surprising and terrifying. Surprising because the Award has been place - and has been legally binding upon employers - for more than years. Terrifying because non-compliance can result in massive penalties and back-payments that could destroy their businesses.

So if these 100 small business owners (who between them employ roughly 350 people) didn't know anything much about Modern Awards or the NES, what are the chances that thousands - or tens of thousands - of other employers are in precisely the same position?

And this made me realise that maybe, just maybe, the only reason my local café still opens on a Sunday despite the crippling penalty rates is because the owner doesn't know anything about them. And perhaps the local hotel owner is blissfully unaware that her casual employees are entitled to be paid super when they earn more than $350 in a month because that's the lower threshold imposed by her Award. 

Maybe the only reason small business people are able to continue successfully running their small business is because they either don't know - or don't want to know - about the Fair Work laws that seek to regulate every aspect of their relationship with their employees. 

In the end I decided the Government may have actually done itself a favour by having some of the world's most ridiculously rigid, complex, and indecipherable labour laws. After all, if they were simpler or clearer employers might actually pay attention to them, and then there'd be no coffee on the weekend for me and a crippling of our economy for us all. Phew, lucky we're all choosing to remain blissful in our ignorance of the Fair Work shambles!

Published: Friday, May 23, 2014

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