The Fair Work Commission says the “torturous” language of industrial awards needs to be improved.

Fair Work Commission (FWC) president Iain Ross believes the award system is too complicated to understand.

He says the system needs “significant improvements”.

“For the balance, they want to know what it is they have to pay their employees and what their legal obligations are,” he told the ABC.

“Our obligation is to try to make that as clear as we can so that they can comply.”

Justice Ross said hospitality, clerical, manufacturing and construction are among the industries most affected by “a high proportion of small businesses and a complexity in the current award that needs to be addressed”.

The FWC has initiated a plain language review that could see awards edited, redesigned and re-written.

An FWC-commissioned study in 2014 found small business operators felt awards were often “convoluted, complex, ambiguous [and] of questionable relevance”.

Justice Ross says the FWC's review will focus on plain language translations.

“The objective of this review process is that an award should be able to be read by an employer or an employee at the workplace without needing a history lesson or a paid advocate to interpret it,” he said.

“The challenge is how do you address the vast range of practical issues that might arise and yet keep an award to a reasonable length.

“What we have to try and do is find a way of re-expressing that sort of tortuous language in something that is easy to understand.

“That's the process we're going through at the moment.”

Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) secretary Sally McManus says the industrial relations system tends to favour employers, catering to their interests above the needs of workers.

However, she said the problem of workers being incorrectly paid is not necessarily due to complicated awards.

“We know from numerous inquiries and investigations that wage theft is systemic and cannot be blamed on ignorance of the rules,” Ms McManus said.

“Often wage theft involves deliberate manipulation of the system followed by contrived ignorance as a first defence.”

“Stopping wage theft is in the interest of both working people and those employers who pay fairly and have to compete with crooks.

“Rather than pandering to dodgy employers at the cost of fairness to the victims of wage theft, we need to make recovery much simpler and more accessible for working people.”