Industrial Relations Myth Busting

I am constantly amazed by the number of myths surrounding industrial relations.

It is even more amusing that even though we are in 2017, these myths don’t look like fading away any time soon.

So, with that in mind, here is 2017’s contribution to industrial relations myth busting.

Myth 1: Industrial Relations, Employee Relations, and Employment Law are all the same thing

While it is possible that industrial relations and employee relations are the same. Employment Law is totally different.

Industrial and employee relations happen in the workplace. Whereas employment law happens in the court.

Yes, you do have to comply with the Fair Work Act when running a business. Though you don’t need to specialise in it to run one. In the same way that you don’t need to be a traffic law expert to drive a car.

Myth 2: A Human Resources or Law degree will teach you all you need to know about industrial relations.

I don’t know how this one started, or why it is still alive.

These degrees may contain one or two modules that relate to industrial relations. Whereas your knowledge of industrial relations comes from spending time in the trenches.

Learning about people.

Relating to them.

Understanding them.

Myth 3: Industrial relations battles are fought and won in the Fair Work Commission

This has to be one of the most embarrassing myths that I have ever heard.

Sadly, it is one of those myths that are fed by certain members of the legal fraternity.

The reality of things is that regardless of whether you win or lose a matter in the Fair Work Commission, you have lost the battle.

Industrial relations ‘battles’ are won and lost in the workplace. Nowhere else.

Myth 4: Engaging a contractor through their company (pty ltd) means they aren’t an employee

This is a tricky one, and will depend a lot on the how much ‘independence’ the contractor has.

If you are only engaging one person, and set down the hours they can work, start and finish times, etc, they may be an employee.

Though like everything else, it is safer to get advice rather than guess and get it wrong.

Myth 5: An unfair dismissal complaint will cost my business thousands

This is one of those myths that is being promoted by those with an agenda to push.

Yes. An unfair dismissal complaint may cost you.

How much it costs you depends on how rigid you are and whether you are willing to compromise.

Myth 6: Penalty rates MUST be reduced for me to stay in business

Now this one technically isn’t an industrial relations related myth. It has more to do with the way a business is run than anything else. Though that hasn’t stopped alleged experts from using it to push their agenda.

The reality of things is that if the margins on your business are that tight, you probably shouldn’t be in business.

Are you trying to set yourself apart from your competitors, or are you in a race to the bottom to see who can sell the cheapest widget?

Myth 7: We need to start battening down the hatches to prepare for the coming IR war

While there may be an IR war on the horizon, (depending on who wins the next election), businesses shouldn’t be gearing up for a fight.

What they should be doing is engaging with their workforce.

If you think there is a war looming, employ quality people now to identify any smouldering embers, before they turn into a forest fire. They could also attempt to restore the ‘trust’ and ‘faith’ they have lost in management.


As with everything else in life, don’t take what some people say as gospel. Always, seek out advice and do your own due diligence.