Calum Woods is the newest addition to the workplace relations team at the National Retail Association. Calum was a former Associate to Commissioner Spencer at the Fair Work Commission assisting with significant matters such as the family and domestic violence leave award modernisation claim, the Coles enterprise agreement termination application by Penny Vickers and the Oaky North lockout. Calum brings to the team a great sense of humour, a solid working knowledge of the Fair Work Act and modern awards, and a keen interest in advocacy and enterprise bargaining.
What excites you about working with retailers?
The retail industry is one of the most complex and diverse industries in Australia. The significant number of workers (and in particular young people) that our industry employs creates its own unique set of challenges, particularly from an industrial relations and advocacy perspective.
Our members are under constant scrutiny with respect to rates of pay and conditions, and this has resulted in an extensive and constantly evolving regulatory environment.
With the number of high profile cases and public interest in the retail industry at the moment, there’s a real opportunity to make an impact.
What sort of matters did you most commonly see at the Fair Work Commission?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most common matter type dealt with by the Commission is unfair dismissal applications. The Commission has an extensive case management process for these types of applications, and by the time they are allocated to chambers and reached my desk, the parties would have already had a significant amount of contact with the organisation, and opportunities to reach a resolution.
In its 2017–2018 Annual Report released last week, the Commission reported that 79 per cent of unfair dismissal applications resolved prior to being dealt with in chambers, and only 6 per cent were resolved by a formal hearing.
In fact, the two types of applications I would deal with more commonly were disputes arising under enterprise agreements, and general protections (not involving dismissal) applications. This is partly because unlike unfair dismissal applications, these types of applications are usually allocated directly to chambers after they are lodged, and are not subject to conciliation.
Disputes arising under enterprise agreements (and modern awards) are not a particularly common type of application in the retail industry. They are quite often agitated by unions in other industries seeking clarification of ambiguous terms within enterprise agreements. General protections on the other hand, are becoming increasingly more common across all industries and create a unique set of challenges for retailers.
I also had the opportunity to work on some particularly interesting matters, including applications to stop unprotected industrial action, bargaining disputes, contentious enterprise agreement approval applications, modern award reviews, and almost every other type of application dealt with by the Commission.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I am a keen Geelong supporter, and have been playing the piano for about 20 years.
I also volunteer with a community legal centre where I provide pro bono legal advice to employees (outside of the retail and fast food industries). Some of the best practitioners that I encountered at the Commission were those with experience working with both employers and employees, and understand both perspectives.
What is your best piece of advice for retailers coming into the peak trade period?
Don’t cut corners.
While the holiday season is the busiest time of year for retailers, the post-holiday season is the busiest for lawyers.
Make sure that you keep accurate records when employees don’t show up to work, follow the proper processes when dealing with misconduct at Christmas parties, and most importantly ask for help if you need it.
I would much rather spend all day on the phone with retailers over Christmas, than all day in court come January!