By David Bates

I recently ran a training session on Australian employment law for a small group who were fairly new to the whole thing.

When you’re dealing with the Fair Work laws day-in and day-out, it’s easy to forget just how exceptionally bad they really are. You start to think every country in the world must obviously run things the same way. Running this training session helped me remember we are the exception to virtually every rule.

Here’s the reaction I received when I explained the concept of Modern Awards: “Seriously?! There are 122 different Awards that most employers don’t know about even though they’ve been legally-binding for 5 years? And no-one at the regulatory authority can actually tell you definitively if they even apply? Crazy!"

Topping that was the reaction I received when reminding attendees that it’s unlawful to cash out annual leave to a zero balance, and that employers and their employees are prohibited from mutually agreeing to have many amounts deducted directly from an employee’s pay: “Why does the Government think it knows better what employers and employees want.”

But the best reaction came when I explained that the ten National Employment Standards (NES) have been in force since 2010 but almost no employer ever hands out the compulsory Fair Work Information Statement (despite the massive potential penalty): “Why bother having all these laws if no one even knows about them?”

Well, that’s a very good question.

I stand by my comments on the Switzer program a week or so ago that our country would grind to a halt if everyone suddenly started complying with out hopelessly complex laws.

The cost of goods and services would rise, many employees would lose their jobs, and plenty of employers would decide it was no longer worth working every waking hour trying to build a business.

Here’s the simple truth: businesses operate in this country despite the Fair Work Act, not because of it. And they tend to only operate successfully because most business owners are either completely unaware of their Fair Work/Modern Award obligations, or they simply choose to completely ignore them.

No other developed country in the world has gone so far out of its way to create such extraordinarily complex, inflexible, and surreal employment laws. We are truly the exception to the rule.