AS WORKERS, unions and employers rush to sort through the Federal Government’s proposed industrial relations changes, lawyers across the country should ready themselves for an onslaught of work.
The “dramatic” increase in both the volume of workplace legislation and the resulting complexity and uncertainty will bring with it more work for lawyers, according to Andrew Stewart, Professor of Law at Flinders University and consultant to Piper Alderman.
“The direction that workplace reform has been heading in the past few years has involved greater complexity in workplace regulation.
“I think we’re about to see a dramatic increase, both in the volume of workplace legislation and in the resulting complexity and uncertainty. And, whenever you have complexity and uncertainty, that usually means opportunities for lawyers,” said Stewart.
However, some areas of work are expected to dry up as a result of the new reforms. Stewart anticipates that there will be a reduction in unfair dismissal proceedings, which will particularly impact lawyers who do employee work.
There is likely to be a corresponding increase in the number of discrimination claims, workers’ compensations claims, common law claims and, “potentially unfair contract claims”.
“There are going to be a huge number of challenges and opportunities presented by the changes. There will be transitional issues from the old system to the new system for just about every business in the country. These new changes will potentially affect every employer. Every employer is going to need advice about what the implications and the possibilities are for them,” said Stewart.
In addition, the legislation is extremely complex, he said. “For the last 15 years, what used to be the Industrial Relations Act and is now the Workplace Relations Act, has gradually been coming to resemble tax legislation. It has been getting larger, the section numbers have had all kinds of letters added to them and have been harder and harder to remember.
“And as every tax lawyer knows, the more detail you add, the more potential there is for loopholes to emerge. What we have is lawyers on both the employers’ and the unions’ side, looking for the unintended consequences, the loopholes, the uncertainties, the test cases, in all of these new provisions. This has to be generating a lot of new work for quite a while,” he said.
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