Turnbull government to scrap FWC’s four-yearly review of awards

The Australian, February 16, 2017:

The Turnbull government will seek to scrap the Fair Work Commission’s four-yearly review of modern awards after lobbying by employer groups and unions.

Under proposed workplace law changes to be introduced in this parliamentary session, the government will also seek to give more discretion to the commission to approve enterprise agreements after complaints that deals were being rejected on minor technical grounds.

The bill’s third element seeks to clarify the process for dealing with the removal of members of the FWC, following controversy over former vice-president Michael Lawler.

The ACTU, the Australian Industry Group and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry wrote jointly to Michaelia Cash in November seeking to have the award review process wound up by the end of this year. Noting the current review had been running for almost three years, they said the process had used substantial resources and sat uncomfortably with the Fair Work Act’s objective that the award system be simple, easy to understand, stable and sustainable.

In a letter to opposition workplace relations spokesman Brendan O’Connor, Senator Cash said it was important the repeal occurred before 2018 when the next phase of the review was due to start.

Awards would still be able to be updated or varied when necessary.

As reported by The Australian two weeks ago, the bill will seek to address growing business frustration at the commission overturning non-union enterprise agreements because of what bosses have called farcical technicalities.

The bill gives the FWC the discretion to approve agreements despite minor technical or procedural errors as long as workers are not disadvantaged.

Senator Cash will also act on recommendations by former judge Peter Heerey to resolve doubts about the power of the minister and the commission to handle complaints against members of the tribunal.