In my travels around businesses, I speak to a lot of businesses owners. One of the most frequent responses I get when speaking to them about the new industrial relations laws is the title of this blog. “We don’t need to worry about that” is a refrain that I hear quite alot. The basic premise is that if they haven’t had a problem before, then they will not have one in the future.
As far as the industrial relations laws are concerned, thinking this way is not a smart move for business owners and managers. Over the last couple of months, I have seen an increase in the number of businesses calling me for assistance after having received a letter from the Fair Work Ombudsman regarding a complaint from an employee. On nearly every occasion, the business concerned had, until now, a belief that “We don’t have to worry about that”.
In a recent article, Judith Radisich from the Council of Small Businesses of Australia, in a response to a survey of small businesses said the following: “I am surprised that a higher proportion of small business respondents did not report complying with IR and OH&S laws takes up a higher proportion of their “people” time. Perhaps the main reason for this is that survey respondents don’t spend much time on compliance because the laws are simply too complex and virtually impossible to get on top of for most small business owners”. So, yet another reason for businesses to say “We don’t have to worry about that” – it is simply too hard to say otherwise!
One business I am currently working with has received two complaint letters and has been requested to provide payroll records. The danger for this company is that the complaint, if found correct, could result in a large amount of back pay being ordered that the company cannot afford to pay. Now the owners are not bad people, they have not set out to deliberately underpay their staff and are quite distressed that they may have. But even they admit that they thought “We don’t have to worry about that”.
The fact is that we have recently gone through one of the biggest revamps of industrial relations in a long time. When this is combined with an active workplace ombudsman (The Fair Work Ombudsman) with the power to order back pay, award fines and commence prosecutions then you have to wonder whether businesses can really afford to say “We don’t need to worry about that”.