By David Bates

This year’s federal Budget was great for Australian small business. At every event I’ve spoken at since Budget night, small business owners have expressed their delight at the Commonwealth’s (belated) recognition of their hard work, sacrifice, and contribution to our nation’s economy.

All that said, the Budget – and every member of Mr Abbott’s Cabinet – continues to ignore the elephant in the room – Australia’s hopelessly complex employment laws. If this government is ‘fair dinkum’ about helping small businesses succeed, they must tackle the Fair Work laws. 

In previous posts I’ve said that proper enforcement of our existing laws should be a condition precedent to any further reform. Indeed, the seemingly endless ‘reform’ of Australia’s employment laws is the cause of today’s entrenched culture of non-compliance. It’s not that employers don’t want to obey the Fair Work laws, most just simply can’t understand them or keep up with the endless changes.

So let me be very clear, I’m not advocating a repeal and replacement of the Fair Work Act. Instead, I’m advocating for specific changes to the Act to end its crippling effect on small businesses.

The changes we need are relatively minor and are not controversial in the grand scheme of things:

  • The introduction of a dedicated Small Business Modern Award – so that small business owners finally have the certainty and flexibility the Commonwealth says they need and deserve;
  • The exclusion of small businesses from the appallingly unfair ‘unfair dismissal’ provisions – which regularly require struggling small business owners to ‘pay off’ incompetent or under-performing employees just to avoid costly and time-consuming hearings at the Fair Work Commission; and
  • A reduction in the fines faced by small businesses for non-compliance – in recognition of the fact small businesses have fewer resources at their disposal.

Small Business Minister Bruce Billson appears to me to be a genuine and passionate advocate for Australia’s small business owners. This makes his continuing silence on the need for urgent changes to the Fair Work Act to help small businesses all the more disappointing.

This year’s Budget will certainly make life a little easier for small businesses, but the above changes to our nation’s employment laws would do much, much more.

(PS: If you ever found yourself doubting the accuracy or validity of my regular criticism of the Fair Work Commission, I trust the recent reporting of Vice President Lawler’s conduct has settled it for you.)