21 June 2010
Guidice Should Attend Senate Estimates Committee
Adam Bisits, President of the HR Nicholls Society
"The President of Fair Work Australia, Mr Geoffrey Guidice has a duty to appear before a Senate estimates committee to provide the basis on which decisions by FWA are made", Adam Bisits, President of the HR Nicholls Society said today when commenting on his apparent refusal to attend.
The FWA is making important decisions that affect the livelihood of both businesses and workers and the continued independence of that body requires it to establish public confidence by being prepared to fully explain the rationale of those decisions. Failure to do that will inevitably lead to pressure to change its role.
"Experience to date already suggests such a failure in its decision-making", Mr Bisits said.
The FWA's Annual Wage Review earlier this month failed to give any substantive justification for the much higher than inflation 4.8 per cent increase in the minimum wage to $29,640 a week. Para 333 merely asserts that there "is a strong case for a rise in minimum wages to provide a fair and relevant safety net, protect the relative living standards of award-reliant employees and assist the low paid to meet their needs".
But the basis of this assertion is not given and no consideration is given to either the competitive position of employers in difficult economic times or the employability of those who do not come in these categories. As pointed out in the Society's press release of 3 June, the decision will make it harder for low skilled workers to obtain jobs.
Nor is there any basis given for the view that "there is a strong case for a percentage adjustment to all modern award minimum wages" (para 336).
The minimum wage is of critical importance in determining the capacity of businesses to employ, particularly those who are unskilled and who can't get a job if the minimum is too high. Although everyone has a capacity to make submissions to FWA (s 289 of the FWA Act), the FWA does not hear directly from people in categories that will be adversely affected.
Yet it would not be hard to interview sample potential workers and employers to assess likely impacts of minimum wage decisions, and it has a power that covers this (ss 290, 291).
The present request to Justice Giudice is to answer questions about estimates that provide taxpayer funding to FWA for its operations and decision-making. That in itself should require his attendance but the Senate has further enquiry powers that could be used to examine the basis of decisions.
The Clerk of the Senate has clearly shown there is no convention that someone like the President not attend, that there is no comity that he not be called and that he is an 'officer' who like many others is covered by the Senate order that officers explain expenditure.
The HR Nicholls Society urges the President of Fair Work Australia to attend the Senate, respond to the scrutiny under which he will be placed and illuminate the workings of his policy making tribunal.