By David Bates

This month I’m on the road with our partners, the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers (ICB), speaking at each of their national conferences right around the country.

At each venue I ask attendees the same questions:

Do your small business clients ask you HR questions?

Do they know about Modern Awards and the National Employment Standards?

Have they heard of ‘sham contracting’, and

Are they confident they’re paying their employees correctly?

One thing that’s already become clear from their responses is that, despite the fact that Fair Work laws having now been in place for over six years, most employers still remain completely unaware of their legal obligations.

Just consider some of the most recent investigations or prosecutions conducted by Australia’s employment authority, the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO):

Pizza Hut is under investigation for alleged ‘sham contracting’

A Melbourne-based accounting firm is facing penalties for being involved in the deliberate under-payment of some of their client’s employees

Some 7-11 franchisees face huge fines for underpaying workers

Baiada is facing scrutiny for a range of allegedly unlawful work practices, and

BP franchisees are being investigated for breaching the applicable Modern Award

The above list barely scratches the surface when it comes to non-compliance with (or complete ignorance of) Australia’s hopelessly complex laws. Yet our commonwealth government seems intent on spending a small fortune funding the agency which prosecutes employers instead of funding a campaign educating them about their legal obligations.

If we’re going to stick with the world’s worst employment laws, employers should at least be given access to a world-leading employment relations authority. Instead, we have the FWO.

The current situation is simply unsustainable, and cannot – and should not – be allowed to continue. 

The lack of awareness about Australia’s employment laws doesn’t help anyone. Employers end up being prosecuted and employees end up frustrated. In fact, the only organisations which appear to benefit are our nation’s largely discredited trade unions.

I look forward to the day when either our employment laws are made fit for the 21st century or employers are provided with the advice and support they both need and deserve to understand the debacle that is the Fair Work Act 2009.