Fair Work board ‘stacked’ with employer groups
The Morrison government has appointed six new deputy presidents with employer backgrounds to the Fair Work Commission, ignoring a recommendation by tribunal presi- dent Iain Ross and sparking Labor and union claims it has stacked the workplace umpire ahead of the federal election.
The Australian can reveal that Jobs and Industrial Relations Minister Kelly O’Dwyer has appointed six new deputy presidents — including four who have worked directly for employer groups — who will each be paid $461,850 annually.
The decision, which has ignited tensions between the government and the commission, means the majority of tribunal members are now Coalition appointments with backgrounds either working for employer groups or as lawyers generally representing employers.
The Australian understands Justice Ross told the government the commission required only one additional appointment to replace commissioner Anna Cribb, who is retiring next month. But Ms O’Dwyer has decided to proceed with six appointments that include Amanda Mansini, the director of workplace relations at the Australian Mines and Metals Association, and Gerard Boyce, a
barrister who has been the NSW state manager of the AMMA and NSW industrial relations manager for the National Electrical and Contractors Association.
Ms O’Dwyer also appointed Bryce Cross, who was industrial advocate and corporate head solicitor at the Chamber of Manufactures of NSW before his admission to the NSW bar in 1997, and Janine Young, a partner at law firm Corrs Chamber Westgarth since 2011.
Other appointments are Nicholas Lake — who has held senior human resources positions with BHP Billiton, ExxonMobil, ANZ and Philip Morris — and Leyla Yilmaz, who until this year was the deputy executive director of the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s workplace policy committee for 25 years.
Commissioner Tony Saunders, a Newcastle barrister appointed to the commission by the Coalition in 2015, has been promoted to deputy president, meaning there are seven new deputy presidents.
Ms O’Dwyer last night confirmed the appointments, saying additional commission members “with the right capabilities will be able to resolve issues and facilitate better workplace outcomes”.
“Since becoming minister I’ve heard from many parties, from unions, employers and employees that the commission could work more effectively with additional resources,’’ she told The Australian.
“These additional resources will give the Fair Work Commission the ability to approve pay increases and better working conditions more quickly for Australian workers.”
The appointments mean that after next month’s departure of commissioner Cribb, the tribunal will be made up of 24 Coalition appointments and 20 ALP appointments.
But while Justice Ross and several senior members are Labor-appointed, the previous Labor government also appointed a number of employer advocates to the tribunal.
Opposition workplace relations spokesman Brendan O’Connor said last night the Coalition had made 20 consecutive “employer” appointments since the Abbott government came to power in 2013.
“This is an abuse of power by a desperate government happy to take instructions from big business and trash the independence of a century-old institution,’’ he said.
“It is utterly reprehensible conduct that shows only hostility to workers in the labour market.”
ACTU secretary Sally McManus last night accused Ms O’Dwyer of a “disgraceful abuse of power” and using the “dying days of her ministry to stack the supposedly independent umpire with big business lobbyists”.
“She is stacking the body that is supposed to protect the pay and rights of working people with representatives from the big business lobby against the wishes of the president of that body,’’ she said.
“These six appointments will result in a Fair Work Commission that is almost two-thirds comprised of people who’ve spent their lives attacking working people’s rights as big business lawyers and lobbyists.”
AMMA chief executive Steve Knott, an outspoken critic of the commission under Justice Ross, last night welcomed the appointments.
The legislation, which passed on Wednesday night with the support of the ALP, seeks to address business frustration at the commission overturning nonunion enterprise agreements because of what employers have called farcical technicalities.