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Bikie bill threatens to bite employers badly

CONCERNS have been raised about the severity of fines incorporated into the proposed Criminal Investigation (Exceptional Powers) and Fortification Removal Bill 2001 – commonly referred to as the ‘bikie bill’.

If made law the bill will give law enforcement agencies the ability to force people to give evidence at “secret” hearings before a special commissioner.

WA Law Society president Clare Thompson said a particular section of the bill called for excessive fines and could also put employers in a difficult situation.

Section 36 of the bill makes an employer who dismisses or shows prejudice to an employee (who has appeared before the special commissioner) subject to a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment and a $100,000 fine.

To escape liability the employer has to prove the employee was dismissed or prejudiced against for a different reason.

Ms Thompson said Section 36 needed modification to bring it into line with other legislation.

“ The problem for employers is that these are secret hearings. If the employee can’t tell their employer they are absent and they don’t turn up one day or on numerous days you can understand why an employer would take measures such as sacking that employee,” she said.

“But what will happen is they will inadvertently get them-selves caught up in this legislation.

“There ought to be some mechanism in place to let the employer know that the employee is required to give evidence.”

Ms Thompson said the five-year jail term and $100,000 fine were well in excess of other industrial relations and anti-corruption legislation, which normally carried a $1,000 fine or one-year’s jail.

“Another difficulty with this is that the onus of proof has been reversed. The employer must convince a court that they had sacked them for a legitimate reason,” she said.

WA Small Business and Enterprise Association executive director Philip Achurch also is concerned about the reversal of the onus of proof.

“We do not believe it is acceptable that the common rights, customs, and laws, which have been inherited via the chiselling and shaping processes of the past centuries should be trammelled and circumvented by this excessive piece of legislation,” he said.

Mr Achurch also raised concerns regarding the scope of the proposed legislation.

“This legislation is not restricted and tightened to organised crime and they are not the only ones who can be picked up by this.”

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