CHANGES TO THE FAIR WORK ACT

The Federal Government has introduced legislation to amend the Fair Work Act ("FW Act").  The change comes after recommendations were made in the Fair Work Act Review (the "Review").  Bill Shorten declared that 3 years after implementation, the Review has demonstrated that the FW Act is working well. 

The Review made 53 recommendations.  Minister Shorten has announced that the government will proceed immediately with 17 of the recommendations made in the Review.  The recommendations that the Government propose to implement immediately are the recommendations that are generally accepted or supported.  The remaining recommendations will continue to be the subject of consultation.

The proposed changes to the FW Act will provide greater protections for small and medium sized businesses.  One of the significant changes is the alignment of all time limits within the FW Act.  Currently, applications for unfair dismissal must be made within 14 days of termination of employment.  Applications under the general protections, for example unlawful dismissal, must be made within 60 days of termination of employment.  This has caused confusion.  The Bill provides that all applications under the FW Act must be lodged with 21 days of termination of employment.  The change in the time limits provides greater certainty for businesses in the event of the termination of an employee.

Fair Work Australia has also been given greater power to dismiss applications that are without merit.  The power to dismiss applications is only exercisable through an application by an employer.  Further, the Bill grants Fair Work Australia the power to make costs orders against a party who unreasonably continues with a proceeding or unreasonably fails to settle a proceeding.  This power is a discretionary power of Fair Work Australia and will only apply when one party has caused the other to incur costs unreasonably. 

The Bill also proposes to change the name of Fair Work Australia to the Fair Work Commission.