WA's Small Business Commissioner is bracing for a potential torrent of unresolved disputes involving small businesses when a new regime takes effect today.
David Eaton will oversee the alternative dispute resolution service, which gives small operators the opportunity to take on more powerful foes without resorting to expensive and time-consuming legal action.
The Small Business Development Corporation service will give businesses the opportunity to fix conflicts before they reach the State Administrative Tribunal or the courts. It is expected to be dominated by retail tenancy disputes against the backdrop of extended trading hours.
"There's evidence that there's a large number of potentially serious disputes that are not escalated anywhere due to cost and time," Mr Eaton said.
The State Government-funded service is free until a third-party mediator is appointed at a subsidised cost of $125 for each side. A certificate from the commissioner is required before a dispute can be taken to the SAT.
"Some disputes are simply resolved because the people finally get to talk to each other," Mr Eaton said.
Combined Small Business Alliance of WA chief executive Oliver Moon said while the law prohibited shopping centre owners from forcing retailers to open during extended trading hours, pressure could be exerted when leases were up for renewal.
"The small retailer hasn't had a feather to fly with. They just have to cop it," Mr Moon said.
"It's cheaper for them to walk away from a situation rather than to fight it under the previous regime. Hopefully that will now change." No SMALL matter 96% The percentage of WA businesses classified as small Source: Small Business Development Corporation