Can education replace the law?

The federal government’s proposal to remove unfair dismissal provisions
for companies with less than 100 employees certainly has a lot of people

This segment
on ABC radio’s pm program tonight discusses
the possibility that Tasmania may become the pathfinder for the rest
of Australia in the battleground over the issue.

[T]he Australian State with perhaps the most at stake
is Tasmania, where the vast majority of companies have fewer than 100

We can understand it from the employer’s point of vies.
has a lot of sympathy for people who mortgage their houses and sign
away the rights to their firstborn children in order to set up their
own small business. It’s hard work and it although it has its privileges,
the constant battle to keep cash flowing in the door is mostly heart-wrenching.

However, we are saddened by the attitude of employers who feel that
unfair dismissal is their enemy,

In the words of Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chief Executive
Damon Thomas

Businesses we’re talking about a very wary of hiring new people.
In fact, it’s an unfortunate truism that at the small business end in
Tasmania you actually get people saying I won’t hire those people, I
do need them, but I won’t hire them because one day I might have to
fire them.

There is no doubt this is the attitude of many small businesses and
it is hard being a small business person. But it also hard
being a low paid worker with a mortgage and a family to support.

Don’t faint but Unions Tasmania secretary, Simon Cocker,
doesn’t agree:

Here we’re facing the very real prospect that these medium
size enterprises will be able to say to their workers, "here’s
your AWA, if you don’t like it, walk", and that worker has got
no comeback.

How can we ever get these two sides to agree?


Well we don’t give much hope to TCCI’s answer

If you don’t treat your workforce properly, you’ll have no
motivation, you’ll have less productivity, and at the end of the day,
you’re the loser, as well as the worker.

Interviewer, Tim Jeanes states the obvious:

But that’s just words. I mean, realistically, what can we
put in place?

To which Thomas replies:

Well, one part of it will be, or could be, a proper coordinated
education and promotions campaign about that very issue, and that’s
one thing that our chamber has actually put to the Federal Government
– a proposal for a small, but significant, pilot program to be
run in Tasmania whereby every employer in the State would receive a
proper guide on how to hire, how to treat, how to deal with your employees,
proper workplace practices, and offer that on an annual basis to make
sure that people were up to date with how you get the best productivity
out of your workforce, and how your workforce gets the best out of you.

Oh, that’s just great. Perhaps we could do the same with car thieves.
Let’s remove the laws against car theft and implement an education program
to show these people the effects stealing cars is going to have on their

Many, many employers know about keeping their staff motivated, but
a lot don’t. They have just started up their businesses and their HR
skills are not great. Why should they be? They didn’t go into business
to be HR managers. But unfortunately like it or not, that’s one of the
things they have to be.

This is the central issue about unfair dismissal. It’s not that employers
don’t have the ability to fire underperforming employees, they don’t
have the skills to manage underperformance.

Instead of arguing for relaxation of unfair dismissal, peak employer
bodies like TCCI and the Australian
Chamber of Commerce and Industry
should be arguing for more support
for employers in this vital area, Imagine how more productive Australia
could be if we improved the management of performance in small business.

Unfortunately, believes that both sides in this debate
are too blinded be either idealogy or downright fear to be able to see
the other’s side of the fence.

The government is blinded by the idealogical view that employers are
putting up the money and they should be able to do what they want.

On the other hand, the Opposition Labor Party is too bound up in trying
to make find a political handle on this issue.

Both the peak employer and union bodies are a bit closer to the action
and see the real fears of their members.

Australia crys out for a leader who will bring these two groups together
rather than driving them apart.

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