RESOURCE industry employer group AMMA is leading the call for any new appointees to the Fair Work Commission in 2015 to have practical experience in running a business, after Employment Minister Eric Abetz last week acknowledged that new tribunal members were on his agenda.

Speaking before Senate Estimates last week, Minister Abetz noted that he would have to fill vacancies arising in the Fair Work Commission this year. AMMA’s research reveals that as many as eight members could retire in 2015, with one senior member having departed in December last year.

The Employment Minister indicated that he would likely contact potential candidates for the roles directly.

“With Fair Work Commission appointments and appointments of that nature, when I get to them, that would be the process I would seek to adopt,” Abetz said during Senate Estimates.

Noting the minister’s comments, AMMA said the appointment process for new Fair Work Commission members is an opportunity to balance the tribunal with business experience.

“At the end of the Keating/Howard era, the FWC comprised 49 tribunal members. 15 came from trade union or ALP backgrounds, 13 had employer or business backgrounds, and 21 were from the legal fraternity or public sector,” AMMA chief executive Steve Knott said.

“The Rudd/Gillard/Rudd governments then made 27 appointments in just six years, 19 of which came from ALP or union backgrounds.

“There is now a distinct lack of business experience in the tribunal, with a minority of FWC members having had any real life experience in actually running a business, be it small, medium or large.

“The result is that many AMMA members routinely complain that whenever they are before an ex-union or ALP-aligned tribunal member, they seldom receive a determination that finds in favour of the employer’s right to run their business and make management decisions.

“The Fair Work Act provides a great deal of discretionary powers to tribunal members and getting initial decisions overturned on appeal is incredibly difficult and incredibly expensive.

“It is also a concern to see Full Benches comprising entirely of ex-union/ALP aligned tribunal members.”

While employment tribunal appointments often create political discussion, great controversy occurred during the former Labor government after two long-standing tribunal Vice Presidents were effectively demoted in favour of Labor’s new appointees.

“It is well beyond time to ditch the old ‘IR Club’ approach,” Mr Knott said.

“New appointments to the FWC should be more representative of modern day businesses and cognisant to the fact that these days only 12% of private sector employees choose to join a union.

“After having great difficulty in getting some parts of its workplace relations agenda through the Senate, these appointments represent a chance for the government to greatly assist the Australian business community without needing legislative approval.

“We call on the government to appoint tribunal members with the business skills needed to drive employment growth, lift workplace productivity and enhance existing jobs within our modern economy.”

For more information on AMMA’s policy work in this area, contact [email protected]