Employers at risk of big penalties

Michael Waters is ready to speak at an employment law seminar yesterday.
Michael Waters is ready to speak at an employment law seminar yesterday. Mike Knott

THE “honeymoon” period with the new Fair Work Act is now well and truly over and employers need to follow requirements or risk hefty penalties, a Bundaberg business conference was told yesterday.

About 80 business representatives attended the fifth annual Employment Law Conference at The Waves to learn about their responsibilities under the Act.

MRH Lawyers partner Michael Waters said the timing of the conference was prompted by a media release by the Fair Work Ombudsman, who promised to visit 475 businesses between Bundaberg and Mackay between October and December 31 this year.

Mr Waters said employers were all expected to have a full and robust understanding of the Act's requirements.

“Failure to follow the rules often results in back payment of wages and, in some cases, penalties of up to $33,000,” he said.

“In our experience, there has been a profound lack of information readily available about the changes, leaving many employers in the dark and at risk.

“Most employers have been covered by a new Modern Award since January 1, 2010, but in many cases they are not aware of which award they are covered by. Or if they do know their award, they are having difficulty understanding it.”

Mr Waters said the industries the ombudsmen had focused on were retail, hairdressing, fast food and hospitality.

“The number one thing that employers are regularly getting wrong is compliance with their new Modern Award. For many employers, it's a completely new set of rules, completely new requirements and vastly different to their previous award,” he said.

Mr Waters said unfair dismissal was a big issue.

“There's a marked resurgence in claims and the employers are still getting terminations wrong,” he said.

“Employers need to find the award, print it out and read it until they know it back to front.

“With unfair dismissals, they need to follow some straightforward and common sense principles of fairness.”

Mr Waters said instead of participants paying a fee for yesterday's conference, they gave donations to the Mayor's Christmas Appeal.

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