No comment from industrial agents

CONSUMER and Employment Protection Minister John Kobelke’s promise to crack down on industrial agents is almost at the legislative stage, yet those most affected by it – industrial agents – have not been given an opportunity to comment.

The industrial agents’ crackdown recommendations are part of a report on changes to the Industrial Relations Act and the Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission prepared by former WAIRC commissioner Sally Cawley.

Her recommendations for industrial agents include adding qualification and experience criteria to their registration requirements, keeping the need for professional indemnity insurance, and a fee scale.

A spokesman for Mr Kobelke said Dr Cawley’s report had been sent to Section 50 parties – those employer and employee bodies who have standing before the WAIRC in State wage cases and other WAIRC matters – for comment.

However, the Government also sent the report to key industrial relations lawyers, such as Freehill partner Russell Allen and Gadens partner Allan Drake-Brockman, for comment because “they also act in the WAIRC”.

Industrial agents were omitted from the initial consultation list.

The spokesman said a “wider distribution is expected in the future as the minister seeks further industry and other feedback on possible changes to legislation”.

Industrial agents are an alternative to lawyers in the industrial relations system – arguably a cheaper one. They provide industrial relations advice to companies and representation before the WAIRC.

Most lawyers protested when agents were introduced into WA’s industrial relations system.

There are more than 65 agents registered to appear before the commission.

Coalition of Small Business Associations CEO Oliver Moon and fellow CoSBA member Tony Thompson, both industrial agents, said they only received the report because they were involved with CoSBA and that many people in their industry were unaware of the Government’s suggestions.

Both agreed that the recommendations regarding tighter criteria for the registration of industrial agents were positive but were concerned that industrial agents had not been given an opportunity to comment.

There are no criteria requiring experience or qualifications for individuals wishing to become an industrial agent, something that has been a bone of contention for many long-serving industrial agents.

However, Mr Thompson said he was concerned about suggestions to set out a fee structure.

“This has particularly been a concern among the guys that predominantly represent employees,” he said.

“We agree that there needs to be a tightening of the criteria for the registration of agents but it’s not for Government to institute a fee structure.”

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