By David Bates

No other developed country on Earth has an industrial relations system as complex as our own. Overseas-based employers regularly gape in disbelief when I explain our system of modern wards, national employment standards, unfair dismissal provisions and enterprise agreement-making processes.

Imagine their complete inability to comprehend the lack of will on either side of politics to make any meaningful changes to this extraordinary mess. And imagine how quickly they decide not to invest in Australia once they realise the extraordinary and disproportionate power wielded by this country’s unions.

Now, if you think I’m exaggerating the complexity of our nation’s employment laws, here are some examples which should put my assertion beyond doubt.

Imagine you run a salon and would like to engage a casual just for one or two hours each afternoon. A high school student responds to your ad telling you they’re keen to gain some work experience before they leave school. A classic win-win right? Wrong.

Because under the Hair and Beauty Industry Award, it’s unlawful for you to engage a casual for fewer than three hours’ at a time. Apparently, the Government and the relevant union (the SDA) know how to run your business better than you do.

Now imagine you’ve decided to introduce an enterprise agreement to finally free yourself from the seemingly endless constraints imposed by your modern award. You follow the entire process from start to finish – investing considerable time and effort - and your employees unanimously vote in favour of the new Agreement.

The only problem is that when you initiated the bargaining process, you inserted the wrong phone number on the ‘Notice of Employee Representational Rights’. Thanks to a stream of decisions handed down by the Fair Work Commission, you’ll soon discover this means your Agreement will be rejected and you’ll have to start the entire process again … from scratch. Who loses out because of this bizarre but incredibly common situation? Everyone.

And right when you think things couldn’t get any worse, you catch an employee stealing money straight from the till. You even have CCTV footage to prove it. So you dismiss them on the spot for serious misconduct. All good, right?

Sadly, no, because the Fair Work Act requires you to provide the employee with an ‘opportunity to respond’ before you confirm their dismissal. Your failure to adhere to this strictly-enforced obligation, despite having caught the thief red-handed, means they’ll now have a strong case for ‘unfair dismissal’.

But don’t worry too much, because you’re likely to then become one of roughly 85% of employers who decides to pay the employee ‘go away’ money to settle the claim during conciliation.

I’m all for a guaranteed safety net of minimum workplace entitlements, but surely we can simplify things a little and treat employers (and their employees) like grown-ups.