'Vexatious' unfair dismissal claims in the gun

Federal Government eyes changes to unfair dismissal laws to prevent sacked workers from launching "vexatious" claims

'Vexatious' unfair dismissal claims in the gun
'Vexatious' unfair dismissal claims in the gun
By Brad Gardner | October 15, 2012

The Federal Government is eyeing changes to the country’s unfair dismissal laws to prevent sacked workers from launching "vexatious" claims.

In responding to a review of the Fair Work Act, Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten (pictured) announced the Government will look at ways to protect small and medium businesses from being lumped with the cost of dealing with unjustified claims.

The change forms part of the first tranche of recommendations from the review to be acted upon, with the Government also announcing an amendment to the timeframe for making unfair dismissal claims.

Shorten says the current structure of Fair Work Australia is working well, but the Government wants to ensure those who pursue claims without merit "should carry the risk of paying the costs".

"So today, we're able to announce changes which will streamline the unfair dismissal system which don't compromise the fundamental rights of people who've been mistreated to make a claim, but certainly I think will clean up some of the vexatious behaviour at the margins, which is good news for literally hundreds of thousands of small businesses," he says.

Changes to the Act will allow commissioners to make cost orders against a party that has unreasonably failed to discontinue a claim or unreasonably failed to agree to a settlement that could have ended the need for proceedings.

The deadline for submitting an unfair dismissal claim and general protections claim will be set at 21 days. Employees currently have 14 days to lodge an unfair dismissal claim, while the time limit for a general protections claim is 60 days.

Shorten will also introduce an amendment to give commissioners the power to dismiss unfair dismissal applications where an applicant fails to attend a proceeding or ignores directions or orders relating to the application.

Furthermore, the Fair Work Australia name will change to the Fair Work Commission. The review of the Act made 53 recommendations, but Shorten says only 17 will be acted upon straight away.

"From my consultations so far, it is clear that there is broad support for around one third of the review’s 53 recommendations. It is also clear that there is diverging views on the remaining recommendations," he says.

"The Government has therefore decided to proceed with amendments to the Fair Work Act to immediately implement recommendations that are broadly supported, including a number of technical amendments, while continuing to consult with stakeholders on the remaining recommendations as I have previously committed to doing."

The Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation (ARTIO) earlier this year called for changes to unfair dismissal laws, claiming businesses were being subjected to dubious claims.

It says some businesses have resorted to paying workers "go away" money because it is cheaper than having to respond to unfair dismissal claims before Fair Work Australia, even if the former employee’s claim is unmerited.

The ARTIO wants claimants to pay a $500 bond instead of the current $62.40 application fee. The group believes charging a bond will improve the system.

"ARTIO submits that there is a need to strengthen [an] employer’s protection against unfair dismissal proceedings from vexatious and ill-conceived applications with little prospect of success," it says.

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