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Australian workplace laws to become more complex, despite already being dubbed ‘the world’s most complicated by far

Chief Executive of Australian Industry Group, Innes Willox, has delivered a speech warning that despite Australia’s workplace relations system being ‘the world’s most complicated by far’, the Government’s further planned reforms set to be released next month will likely further complicate laws, and ‘inhibit productivity and boost union powers’.

Addressing the complexities of Australia’s workplace relations system, Willox highlighted that Australia is the only country that operates under an award system, which has ‘more than 120 modern industry and occupational awards, each immensely detailed with more than 1000 different classifications and minimum wage rates’.

Willox also referred to the 1200 page long Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), describing it as ‘just as long as Tolstoy’s War and Peace but even harder to follow’, suggesting that ‘working towards the goal of a simpler and more transparent workplace system’ should be the Government’s focus for reform, rather than embarking on ‘potentially even more complexity and change’.

Industrial Relations ‘Reform’ – the risks of unjustified changes and the need for a better approach


FWC finds employee was dismissed, despite accepting there was a ‘clear and unambiguous’ resignation

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) has found an employee was dismissed despite accepting they had given a ‘clear and unambiguous’ resignation, which was not given ‘in the heat of the moment’.

The FWC found that the employee, who purported to resign after suffering an allergic reaction in the course of their employment, was in ‘a state of high stress’ when they gave the resignation, and that the employer ‘ought to have made further inquiries into the [employees] true intentions’.

Discussions with the employee regarding their safety, combined with the employee’s attempt to revoke the resignation, and medical evidence of the employee’s mental state provided to the employer, ‘should have given the [employer] even more reason to explore the intentions of the [employee].The FWC ultimately found that the employment had ended due to ‘a termination at the initiative of the employer’ despite the resignation, allowing the employee’s unfair dismissal claim to proceed.

Bethan St John Rutter v Anglogold Ashanti Australia Limited [2023] FWC 1891 (31 July 2023)

FWO recovered over $500M in unpaid wages and entitlements in 2022-23

In a recent speech delivered by the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO), it announced that  ‘the recovery of over half a billion dollars in unpaid entitlements for the second year in a row’, highlighting that ‘large corporate and university underpayments continued to comprise a large amount of [the] recoveries, accounting for $317 million’ or two-thirds of recovered underpayments.

The previous financial year saw the FWO produce ‘record recoveries of over $532 million to more than 384,000 workers in 2021-22’ and highlighted that last year alone ‘more than 14,000 anonymous reports’ regarding workplace issues were made, increasing by 12% from the previous year.

The comments were made just weeks after the FWO claimed  an ‘influx of underpayments from large employers’, therefore shifting their attention away from medium sized business which were mainly investigated.

Fair Work Ombudsman – Speech to the Ai Group PIR Conference (1 August 2023)


Supreme Court finds non-disparagement clause could act as restraint of trade

The Supreme Court of New South Wales (Court) has found a journalist breached a non-disparagement clause contained in a deed, after writing an article about their ex-employer, notwithstanding the employee’s arguments that the comments made in the article were ‘matters of public record’ and ‘unrelated to [the] employment or the Proceedings’.

The employee asserted that as a journalist, he made a ‘livelihood as both an opinion writer and media and politics professor’ and that allowing the clause was ‘akin to a restraint of trade’ which purported to ‘shut him down forever’.

The Court found the non-disparagement clause made ‘no exception for disparagement which may be fair comment’, and that there ‘is no conceptual reason why, depending on its field of operation, a non-disparagement provision could not be in restraint of trade’.

Network Ten Pty Limited v van Onselen [2023] NSWSC 829 (14 July 2023)


We hope you have enjoyed this fortnight’s employment law news. See you next fortnight!

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