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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2019 Week 11 Hansard (Tuesday, 24 September 2019) . . Page.. 3766 ..

disputes. Fair work disputes are about people’s livelihoods and their access to entitlements that they have earned from a fair day’s work. Delay in accessing justice, particularly in relation to underpayment of wages, can result in a family without food or medical attention; it can result in bills that are not paid. This is simply unacceptable, and while there is more work to do, through this bill the government has acted to ease the way that people in Canberra can access justice. The sooner disputes are heard and resolved, the sooner individuals can move forward with their life.

One of the mechanisms that this bill introduces to ease the way for the resolution of these disputes is the requirement for parties to all fair work claims to attend mediation. Imposing compulsory alternative dispute resolution has significant benefits for all parties. Mediation provides a more equal forum in which employers and employees can discuss their dispute and have a meaningful dialogue towards reaching an agreed outcome. It provides an opportunity for parties to resolve their dispute early, reducing legal costs and time spent in the court system.

As I mentioned when I introduced this bill to the Assembly, mediation involves a neutral third party who assists parties in dispute to try to negotiate an agreed solution. A mediator’s functions can include encouraging settlement of the dispute, promoting the open exchange of information between parties, and providing information to the parties about the operation of relevant laws. They can also be used to clearly identify the areas of dispute between the parties so that if the matter cannot be resolved without further litigation then the litigation can be focused on the really important issues and keep legal costs arising out of the dispute to a minimum.

The government considers that the provision of compulsory mediation plays a pivotal role in ensuring that our justice system responds appropriately to the needs of Canberrans in enforcing their rights in fair work claims. The amendments confirm and clarify that fair work claims can be made as either fair work small claims or fair work general claims. Fair work small claims are those claims seeking up to $20,000. The proposed amendments provide the Magistrates Court with the ability to handle these claims in an efficient and informal way by allowing workers to be represented by officers of their union, and businesses by industry associations.

Providing this option in relation to small claims is consistent with the commonwealth approach. It reflects the fact that a small claims procedure has distinct features, including that the claim needs to be under $20,000 and that the court is not bound by the rules of evidence. Noting this, it is appropriate for parties to have the option of being represented by an officer of an industrial association. In contrast, the formality and potential monetary applications of a fair work general claim mean that it could be inappropriate for a non-lawyer to represent a party to those proceedings. These measures strengthen the ability of the Magistrates Court to handle small claims matters in an efficient and effective way.

The bill amends the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2008 to allow the tribunal to remove matters involving a fair work claim to the Magistrates Court. Pursuant to the commonwealth Fair Work Act, the tribunal does not and cannot have jurisdiction to hear fair work claims. However, occasionally during the course of a civil dispute in the tribunal a fair work matter may arise. These amendments will

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