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ARTIO welcomes IR reforms, but wants further changes

Industry group backs proposed changes to unfair dismissal laws announced yesterday

By Brad Gardner | October 16, 2012

The Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation (ARTIO) has backed proposed changes to unfair dismissal laws, but wants the Federal Government to go further.

ARTIO National Industrial Advisor Paul Ryan says the Government’s plan to crack down on vexatious applicants should help reduce the practice of former employees using the threat of an unfair dismissal claiml to secure ’go away’ money.

Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten wants to give Fair Work Australia the power to order costs against a party that fails to discontinue an unwarranted claim.

“It should help…but you’ve always got to see the detail because they’ll have to amend the legislation in some instances,” Ryan says.

“It is some change and it will make a difference but there are still more stuff that needs to be done, in our view.”

Ryan says the ARTIO will still advocate for unfair dismissal claimants to pay a $500 bond before they can pursue action against a former employer.

He also wants the Government to remove the reverse onus of proof that applies in general protections cases, which deal with freedom of association and discrimination in the workplace.

“That’s how essentially our legal system works: he who asserts must prove. But the law has been changed in some instances, and this is one where it says: he who asserts, the defendant must prove their innocence, which can be difficult in some circumstances,” Ryan says.

He says requiring defendants to prove their innocence can be tough on small trucking firms that lack the administrative resources and expertise of larger operators.

However, the ARTIO has welcomed Shorten’s announcement that the deadlines for unfair dismissal and general protections claims will be aligned.
Unfair dismissal claims currently need to be lodged within 14 days of termination, while the time limit is 60 days for general protections. Under the Government’s proposal, the limit will be 21 days for both claims.

“I think that’s a smart thing to do,” Ryan says.

“What was happening was some people were looking at unfair dismissals, they ran out of time so they just go and put in a general protections application.”

The proposed changes are part of 17 of 53 recommendations from a review of the Fair Work Act. Shorten says there was broad agreement among employer associations, unions and other stakeholders on the 17 recommendations , but the groups are at odds over the remaining proposals.

He has committed to ongoing consultation, which Ryan says the ARTIO plans to be a part of to make its views known.

Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) CEO Innes Willox says the recommendations the Government plans to implement do not address the group’s major concerns with the Act.

“They included more tightly defining the issues which can be the subject of bargaining claims, stopping unions holding employers to ransom over greenfields agreements for new projects, implementing a more effective framework for individual flexibility arrangements, and fixing the poorly drafted general protections and transfer of business laws,” he says.

However, Willox says he welcomes the decision to give Fair Work Australia more power to award costs where applicants have acted unreasonably.

“Welcome also is the reduction to 21 days for the general protections filing deadline for applications relating to termination of employment,” he says.

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