By David Bates

Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend the Australian Institute of Employment Rights' annual Ron McCallum debate in Sydney.

Guest speakers included the National President of the National Union of Workers, Caterina Cinnani, and the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell.

This year’s spirited debate focussed on ‘employment insecurity’ and, specifically, the increased casualisation of the Australian workforce.

While a wide range of diverse opinions were presented, it appeared all the panellists agreed on one thing: Australia’s workplace relations laws are simply too complex ... especially for small businesses.

Here are just some of the baffling Fair Work-related complexities Workforce Guardian’s own small business subscribers contact us about every day:

Finding the applicable Modern Award

Identifying which Modern Award(s) apply to a business is absolutely critical, yet our current system makes it exceptionally difficult for many small businesses to identify – and comply with – the applicable Modern Award. This is why we support the creation of a dedicated Small Business Modern Award – not a ‘small business annexure’ to the existing Awards.

Understanding the difference between RDOs and Averaging Arrangements

Our experts are constantly asked to explain the dazzling array of different (and sometimes conflicting) RDO and averaging arrangements found in many Modern Awards. Most small owners simply don’t have the time or resources to fully-understand these far-too-complex provisions.

Flexible Working Requests v Individual Flexibility Arrangements (IFAs)

It may surprise you to discover these are two completely separate concepts with entirely different requirements and eligibility criteria.

Many small business owners understandably conflate these two separate concepts, resulting in unintended – but very serious – breaches of the Fair Work laws.

Dismissal-Related Claims

Small businesses are exposed to a number of potential claims from terminated employees: unfair dismissal, unlawful termination, discrimination and adverse action are just the four most common claims we come across. The complexity of the current laws make small business owners exceptionally wary of hiring new, permanent employees.

Simplifying our employment laws does not mean we have to reduce employee entitlements or protections. For far too long, the debate around workplace relations has been seen as ‘black and white’, with simplification inextricably – and misleadingly – linked to cuts to pay and benefits.

I left last week’s debate feeling both hopeful and confident that change is possible if we rise above entrenched partisan positions and offer genuine help and support to Australia’s small businesses.