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The Industrial Relations Minefield

The march of the current government to make wholesale changes to our industrial relations landscape continues.

While there are employers who treat employees more than poorly, the reality is that in such a labour short market, most employers are bending over backwards to keep employees happy and engaged.

The constant pace of change to industrial relations laws over the last 12 months adds extra complexity and legislative compliance to organisations of all sizes. In fact, it is the biggest change to the IR landscape since Work Choices in 2005.

As highlighted by Jessica Tinsley, Director of Workplace Relations for the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry at a recent SA Business Chamber breakfast, the definition of a casual employee will now span 5 pages. This can present huge challenges for your average SME with limited internal HR resourcing to ensure they are meeting their employment obligations.

So how do you navigate this increasingly complex industrial relations landscape?

  • Set things up right from the very start: Engage a HR or IR specialist who can understand your business and draft employment contracts for your staff from the very first person that you employ. Have a draft ready to go before you start recruiting to avoid delays which may lose an impatient job applicant.

  • Don’t forget existing employees: For established organisations, seek advice around pay rates and terms and conditions of existing employees to confirm you are meeting award and Fair Work requirements – don't assume changes only apply to new employees.

  • Don’t wait to address issues: Get advice early if issues with employees arise. Don't wait until a situation is a boiling point to seek professional advice. If you have an inkling something may go south, work out a plan early.

  • Keep records: Have sound records management around employment and consider whether an online platform such as Employment Hero would be of value.

  • Stay informed: Industry groups, business chambers, Fair Work Australia and the like all offer ongoing training and support. Ignorance is no defence regardless of the complexity of employment law.

For any start up or small business it is imperative that among your suite of trusted advisors is a HR expert or industrial relations lawyer. Medium to larger business may employ an in-house resource but will likely still need external legal advice depending on the situation.

Regardless of your size, be proactive and be prepared. The changing industrial relations landscape is too important to ignore.