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Sorting the wheat from the chaff

THERE is some good in WA’s proposed Industrial Relations Reform Bill, according to former Australian and WA Industrial Relations Commission senior commissioner Gavin Fielding.

However, Mr Fielding believes the good points of the Bill will be outweighed by the negatives and could ultimately cause WA’s IR system to be run from Canberra.

Mr Fielding authored the 1995 Fielding Report, a review of the Court Government’s industrial relations laws.

However, his report was not allowed to consider the Workplace Agreements Act that will be abolished by the IR Reform Bill.

The staunch East Perth supporter is joining Clayton Utz’s WA workplace relations practice as a consultant.

Mr Fielding said the new IR laws would streamline a lot of WA’s industrial relations processes by letting the WAIRC hear cases more quickly and allowing it to put time limits on them.

“The time limits are important because there have been some unfair dismissal cases that have gone longer than murder trials,” he said.

“The new laws will also bar people earning more than $90,000 a year from using the commission for unfair dismissal.

“They will also clarify the powers of the commission to award compensation in unfair dismissal cases.

“If a person was reinstated after it was deemed they had been unfairly dismissed, they couldn’t get back all of the wages they had lost since their dismissal. Now the commission will also be allowed to award lost wages and take into account other matters.

“If it deems the employer acted particularly unfairly it can award compensation above the wages lost. If it finds the employee contributed to the dismissal it can also reduce the compensation accordingly. Another benefit will be the broader discretion the commission will have to amend national wage cases to make sure they fit WA needs.”

That was one of the recommendations from his 1995 report.

Mr Fielding also believes the removal of the pre-strike ballots is good.

“In my experience employers did not like them,” he said.

“While it lengthened the process to start a strike it also lengthened the process to dismantle one. That law also required the commission to issue an immediate return to work order without taking into account the situation.

“Sometimes letting negotiations proceed overnight produced a better outcome for both parties.”

Mr Fielding believes the unworkable nature of some of the new IR laws the Government is introducing will still “probably cause a flight to the Federal system, which will be a tragedy for WA”.

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