In 2016, the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO) held a national consultation with small businesses and family enterprises to hear the issues they need the ASBFEO to champion. Workplace relations issues were one of the primary issues raised, particularly the need to reduce the complexity of the system, and streamline the ability to recruit and remove staff for business needs. In 2017, the ASBFEO established a Policy Forum, with members from 27 industry associations, to examine various small business issues. The Forum confirmed the complexity in the Australian workplace relations system remains a key issue as it is stifling business confidence to employ.
Unlike larger businesses, small businesses do not have access to the expertise necessary to navigate the complexities of the Fair Work Act 2009, where there are very narrow margins for error. Yet, small businesses make up more than 99% of all Australian businesses (source: Budget 2017-18), contribute $380 billion to the economy and employ more than 5.5 million people (source: Treasury). Of this 75% of employing small businesses employ one to four workers. The small business owner invariably handles all operational and legislative requirements, which include administration workplace relations obligations. They are not HR or legal experts and do not have HR departments, legal departments or finance departments. Put simply, the workplace relations system is too complex and time consuming for Australian businesses.
This paper presents practical solutions to reduce complexity through non-legislative approaches, to make the system more accessible to smaller businesses. In addition, a small number of legislative changes are proposed, which should have general support and would further improve the system.