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From the Desk of the Executive Director

Ken Phillips is co-founder and Executive Director of Independent Contractors of Australia. He is a published authority on independent contractor issues and directs research on related commercial and trade practices issues. Through his numerous articles in newspapers and think-tank and academic journals, Ken is known for approaching issues from outside normal perspectives and is frequently sought out for media comment.

Small businesses must make stand against Fair Work goliath

Thursday, December 27, 2012

"DEAR Campbell Newman. Yes please, protect our business and jobs from the Fair Work Act."

This is the short email that 50,700 small-business owners and the 380,000 people who work with them as employees should send to the Premier.

Recently Newman, through his Attorney-General, released an issues paper that proposes Queensland "bring back" its industrial relations powers from the Commonwealth covering unincorporated businesses (sole traders and partnerships).

It's an excellent proposal.

The outcome would be that Queensland (unincorporated) small businesses would not be controlled by the Fair Work Act.

Queensland would set up its own simple, small-business industrial-relations system designed for real fairness and help people working in small businesses to flourish.

Queensland can lead the nation on this.

The problem with the federal Fair Work Act is that it's designed by big business, big unions, big government and big lawyers to look after "big".

That's why federal Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten, unions, and big-business representatives all announced they opposed the Queensland plan.

Frankly, they don't understand or care little about the bulk of people (70 per cent of the workforce) who work in small businesses.

The Fair Work Act has been designed as if everyone works in big organisations like the public service. (That's where most union members are now located.)

But applying public-service-type arrangements to small business is illogical and causes damage.

In Queensland, the imposition of these public-service-type work arrangements is particularly harming the tourism and hospitality industries.

Tourism is heavily structured around small businesses. Tourists don't travel 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. But the Fair Work Act pretends tourism businesses can operate within public service arrangements.

The result is Queensland tourism businesses are forced to restrict services during many peak demand periods.

It means unhappy tourists, less tourism, struggling businesses and fewer jobs.

Newman has clearly recognised this. He has the constitutional power to help about half the number of Queenslanders working in small business (the rest work in incorporated businesses).

Queensland can have a small-business system that does several things.

First, it would recognise that everyone working in a small business is a "worker".

Small business employers are just hard-working individuals, not unlike the employees who work with them.

They all work together and succeed or fail together. There's no inequality of power.

A Queensland system could take a practical approach to this truth.

Legislation should be stand-alone, simple, short and easy to read.

It should be modelled on consumer laws rather than complicated industrial relations laws. No lawyers, unions or employer associations should be allowed to interfere.

Basic minimum pay rates and conditions should be set and strongly enforced. Having a truly fair but simple system also means being tough on anyone who underpays someone.

A fair dismissal code should replace unfair dismissal laws. Kevin Rudd promised this when he was elected in 2007. But after he was sacked, the Gillard Government broke this promise.

Newman could do in Queensland what the Gillard Government has failed to do federally.

Importantly, a Queensland system could take working hours into the modern consumer-driven world. Gillard's Fair Work Act stops this.

The 38-hour week should be able to be worked in any 24/7 cycle. For example, a "normal" week could be Sunday to Thursday.

Do this and Queensland (unincorporated) small businesses would really be able to supply services when customers wanted them.

This would boost the quality of Queensland's tourism industry.

Newman is showing a practical way forward to help people who run and work in small businesses.

Big business, big unions and the Gillard Government have declared their opposition. But for the sake of Queensland small-business people, Newman should move ahead.
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