03/12/2008 - 22:00

Legislation changes state IR landscape

03/12/2008 - 22:00

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WORKERS have been given greater flexibility to resolve workplace disputes through mediation with new legislation proclaimed this week by the state government.

WORKERS have been given greater flexibility to resolve workplace disputes through mediation with new legislation proclaimed this week by the state government.

While the Employment Dispute Resolution Act, which came into effect on December 1, is viewed as a significant change for the state's industrial relations system, the legislation contrasts significantly with the Rudd government's Fair Work Bill.

Most notably, the new act enables workers covered by either a state or federal workplace agreement to nominate the state commission to mediate any dispute.

Chief commissioner at the WA Industrial Relations Commission, Tony Beech, said the informal mediation structure under the act allowed parties to a dispute to choose a commissioner to mediate, conciliate or even arbitrate.

In contrast, the federal government's workplace relations model broadens the scope for arbitration of agreements and gives the revamped Industrial Relations Commission a greater role.

"It's quite a remarkable piece of legislation; it allows us to mediate at the request of an employer or employee, whether their workplace is in the federal industrial relations system or not," Mr Beech said.

"This is a way of defusing what otherwise might become a formal legal proceeding somewhere else."

The Employment Dispute Resolution Act is separate to the WA Industrial Relations Act, meaning the Fair Work Bill, which will replace the federal Workplace Relations Act when it passes the Senate, cannot override the state legislation.

WAIRC registrar John Spurling said the Employment Dispute Resolution Act would benefit the small business sector because it encouraged direct bargaining between employers and workers.

"For 106 years in WA, if there's been a problem business would say 'if we can't solve it we'll go to the industrial relations commission and they'll tell us the answer'," he said.

"Over the last 10 years it's been push, push, push back down to the workplace where there's been a gradual shift in comprehension by business owners in how to run the business and deal with local bargaining."

Employers and workers are not compelled to engage in mediation under the new act, however for a binding determination to be enforced by the industrial magistrate, all parties involved must agree to participate in the process.

Small Business Development Corporation managing director Stephen Moir welcomed the legislation, saying it would cut red tape and reduce the cost of industrial disputes.

Workplace relations lawyer at Clayton Utz, Saul Harben, said the legislation encouraged dispute resolution at the employer-employee level.

"It gives an employee in the federal system the flexibility to use the state commission to resolve a workplace dispute, and anything that affords flexibility and the opportunity to use an open forum is a good thing," he said.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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