Supporting small business

A detailed COVID-29 Recovery Plan aims to get your business back on its feet.

Restrictions are finally starting to lift and many small businesses are considering reopening or ramping up as we enter the recovery phase of the pandemic.

It’s a reason for small businesses to feel positive and, if they’ve been using the downtime to think about ways of reinventing their business, now is the time to start putting those plans into action. Of course, many small and family businesses may be feeling overwhelmed and wondering if their business will continue to be viable over the coming months.

For businesses that were impacted by both COVID-19 and the devastating bushfire season, the hurdles may seem insurmountable. There’s no doubt there has never been a tougher time to be in business. With that in mind, my office has released a comprehensive plan, recommending a suite of reforms to support small businesses at this challenging time.

Our COVID-19 Recovery Plan details a number of changes that aim to create a small-business-friendly landscape including:

  • legislating 30-day payment terms for small businesses
  • creating a federal small business claims tribunal with ASBFEO to provide triage services
  • abolishing Fringe Benefits Tax for small business
  • making the small business instant asset tax write-off of $150,000 permanent
  • ensuring least cost routing for electronic payments is available to all small businesses
  • unfair contract terms automatically void in contracts up to $10 million
  • creating a small business procurement panel for any government contract under $10 million
  • introducing a Small Business Award
  • amending the Small Business Fair Dismissal Code.

Our recovery plan aims to restart the economy by getting people back to work and building economic confidence.

It was encouraging to hear the Prime Minister announce plans to rethink our industrial relations framework, describing the system as “not fit for purpose”.

It’s absolutely true that in this new world we live in, with business confidence

at a historical low, small businesses need to be able to hire and manage staff easily, so they can get on with the job of running their business.

The Fair Work Act has 960 sections and over a quarter of a million words. On top of this, Australia has more than 100 industry awards, with hundreds more classifications within those awards.

That’s why my office is calling for the introduction of a Small Business Award. If adopted, the Small Business Award would be simpler than existing awards and available to all small businesses on an “opt-in” basis. It would cover all staff, irrespective of their different duties and would include a “permaflexi” classification. The Award should have minimum standard pay rates, which can include penalty rates but not overtime, ie loaded rates.

Permaflexi gives the employee a permanent and secure position with standard forms of leave, but it also gives the employer the flexibility to ensure shifts can be changed to meet the needs of both the business and the employee.

Small businesses will be facing enormous challenges and uncertainty as they emerge from hibernation. They need flexibility and confidence in the system to start hiring again.

Unfortunately, the overly complex system we have now, effectively forces small businesses to seek expensive legal advice in order to try to avoid the threat of significant penalties if they happen to make a mistake. This means small-business owners often decide not to employ because it is too risky and complex.

It’s these points and more we will be raising during the government’s industrial relations discussions over the coming months, to ensure the small-business community is heard.

KATE CARNELL AO, Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman

This story first appeared in issue 29 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine

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