Two new appointments to the Fair Work Commission are enraging unions because of the appointments’ employment backgrounds, while businesses are pushing for further appointments, expecting a rise in dismissals over vaccines.
Industrial relations minister Michaelia Cash announced the appointments on Saturday, triggering criticism from the ACTU that the government was trying to “sneak out” the appointments the week before Christmas.
The new FWC deputy directors are Theresa Moltoni, former chief of mining and construction labour-hire company WorkPac, and Victorian lawyer and former ACCC public servant Andrew Bell.
“I am confident that the appointees will execute their duties with impartiality and diligence,” Cash said.
The Australian Mines and Metals Association welcomed the appointments, saying the FWC until now was short two members compared to when Labor was in government in 2013.
The industry employer group’s chief executive, Steve Knott, said even with the two new appointees the commission remained at “comparatively low levels”.
“The FWC is widely expected to deal with an escalating number of workplace disputes as more employers seek to implement vaccine requirements and other COVID-19 risk-mitigation policies,” Knott said.
“AMMA strongly encourages the government to make further appointments in the new year, with additional funding provided in the March federal budget if necessary.”
ACTU acting secretary Liam O’Brien criticised the government for making appointments the union believed would prioritise big business.
“The appointment of the former CEO of labour-hire operator Workpac to the FWC proves yet again that Mr Morrison doesn’t have working people’s back,” O’Brien said.
WorkPac was at the centre of a legal challenge involving a casual employee in 2020 who worked with the labour-hire company for three and a half years and claimed he was entitled to the benefits of ongoing employment given he performed regular and consistent hours.
The Federal Court agreed he was a permanent employee, but the High Court overturned the decision because the employee and WorkPac had agreed to casual terms in a contract.