A call to overhaul Australia’s complex awards system

On behalf of the small businesses I help through my work at the employee management tool Deputy, I am calling upon the Minister for Small and Family Business, the Workplace and Deregulation to address the glaringly obvious and dangerous systemic issue that is leaving small businesses and their employees unknowingly in breach of the Fair Work Industry Awards.

Please act quickly to overhaul Australia’s complex award and wage system and equip small businesses with the appropriate tools to close a dangerous knowledge gap.

The underlying issue is this: the current Fair Work awards guidance is over 100 pages long, a legal document, written by lawyers that neither employers or employees understand.

Businesses trying to grapple with this document to ensure compliance often find out that they are in breach when they’re audited, by then it’s too late. They’re slapped with a fine or face court hearings. With either outcome they suffer financially.

In my attempts to get to the bottom of this issue, I recently found out that addressing the complexity of the awards system for small businesses is very much on the radar of the Fair Work Ombudsman. In fact, there has been an ongoing investigation in place for the past two years.

I was surprised to hear that there have already been over 1000 hearings and conferences held by Fair Work in relation to how best to overhaul this complex awards system to help businesses interpret it. I am struggling to understand why years down the line the Government is still failing small businesses, with no solution imminently in sight. Stories of wage miscalculation are hitting the media daily, and it’s the small businesses that are suffering. There is no more time to delay.

On the other side of the coin, the complex awards and wage system possesses issues for the employee, too. With the evident shift towards the gig economy that is happening in line with other societal trends, we know that individuals are increasingly living “on-demand” lifestyles, and the workforce is no different. Australian employees are increasingly expecting to work where they want, when they want, and it’s important that they are empowered with the tools to know that they’re also being paid a fair wage.

I would like to clarify at this point that I am by no means calling for awards and wages to be made a flat rate. Under the current system, I agree that it is fair and just to consider factors such as age, experience and the time of day they are required to work when determining the appropriate wage. However, there is undoubtedly a clear communications issue when it comes to interpretation of the awards.

As we move rapidly into the fourth industrial revolution, one that is characterised by the merging of digital technologies into our everyday lives, Australian businesses should not be operating in fear of wage breaches due to excessive bureaucracy and an overly complex awards system.

If the Government is truly embracing innovation and backing small businesses, addressing this issue would be a good place to start. The ability to quickly and accurately navigate a complex awards system should be the right of every small business in Australia, to truly give them a shot at success to see our small business industry thrive.

Ashik Ahmed, CEO, Deputy

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