By David Bates

This Saturday, Australians will head to the polls after what many are describing as one of the dullest campaigns in living memory.

While we won’t know who’ll form government until late Saturday night, there’s one election outcome I can predict with absolute certainty: both the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) and the Fair Work Commission (FWC) will continue making life a misery for Australian employers.

This is because neither side of politics has the courage to implement the long-overdue – and desperately-needed – reforms of these hopelessly out of touch agencies.

The FWO – which is responsible for providing guidance to both employers and employees about Australia’s hopelessly complex employment laws – has proven itself hopelessly unable to fulfil its remit.

Don’t believe me? Try calling their Fair Work Information Line three times and asking the same question. Chances are you’ll receive three wildly different answers.

And it’s not just employers who are tired of the FWO’s ongoing inability to provide practical, consistent and reliable advice. In a recent ruling, Federal Circuit Court judge, Alexander Street, blasted the FWO’s conduct, holding them partially responsible for the eventual winding-up of a business.

He even labelled some of the allegations made by the FWO against the employer in that case ‘outrageous and baseless’.

Hmmm ... not quite the conduct employers are entitled to expect from a tax payer-funded agency that is required to comply with the ‘Model Litigant Policy’.

And then there’s the FWC – the nation’s employment relations tribunal - where former union officials and barristers and solicitors are appointed for life (well, until 65) to lucrative, quasi-judicial positions with salaries well in excess of $300,000 p/a.

Sadly, the Commission has also proven itself hopelessly unfit for purpose. It’s standards of service are, quite frankly, appalling – and regularly fall well below even the Commission’s own ‘Service Charter’. Try obtaining a ‘timely’ or ‘helpful’ response from its employees and see how you go.

I once asked the operator why it was so difficult obtaining the direct phone number for the office of the Commissioner handling my client’s case. I was told it’s because the Commission ‘doesn’t want every man and his dog to call’.

Yes, seriously.

The Commission also struggles with consistent decision-making, and the process for Enterprise Agreement approvals is hopelessly inadequate. Just ask the 30,000 Coles employees who have been dudded out of many of their penalty rates by a union/employer deal which somehow passed the ‘Better Off Overall Test’.

Put simply, employers have no confidence in either the FWO, or the FWC. The former needs fundamental reform, while the latter would significantly benefit from the appointment of new Commissioners from an SME background who genuinely understand what it’s like to run a small business.

Sadly, this all appears to be wishful thinking this election year.