Unfair dismissals are now running about twice the level they were at in 2008-09, the final year of WorkChoices. According to data from Fair Work Australia, almost 8,000 unfair dismissal claims were lodged in the first six months of 2011-12, a rise of 11 per cent from a year earlier.

Under the Coalition’s WorkChoices policy, businesses with 100 or fewer staff were exempted from unfair dismissal laws.

Labor restored unfair dismissal rights in 2009, with albeit fewer protections for staff working in businesses of less than 15 persons.

The Coalition’s Shadow Minister for Workplace Relations, Senator Eric Abetz, slammed the increase in ‘go away’ money paid by employers and promised to reduce the number of claims if the Coalition won office.

Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten pointed to Labor’s guarantee of extra rights for workers and played down the data, claiming there was only a “small increase in the number of claims”.

Shorten also attacked the Coalition for a paucity of detail in their industrial relations policies, observing that “The Liberals industrial relations policy must be in a witness protection program, because no one can find it”.

ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence claimed that while the number of workers covered by federal laws had tripled, the number of claims had only doubled.

A key danger for employers is the strong growth in general protections claims that relate to discrimination and freedom of association. The general protections provisions of the Fair Work Act aim to provide protection from “workplace discrimination “ – a person such as an employer may not take any “adverse action” against another person, such as an employee, because they have, have exercised, or plan to exercise, a workplace right.

iHR believes prevention is the best cure. While we offer advice on terminations, redundancies and general protections claims, we also place an enormous emphasis on culture and behaviour as a driver of performance. Complex and costly dismissals could be prevented by a stronger focus on workplace culture.

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