I am pleased to introduce the Fair Work Commission’s annual report for 2019–20.
2019–20 has been a busy and challenging year for the Commission, as it has been for the Australian community generally. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many aspects of our lives and has brought significant changes to workplaces and the economy.
The Commission has played a role in helping workplaces respond to the economic impacts of the pandemic. The Commission has acted quickly to vary modern awards to provide flexibility for employers and employees to make workplace changes in response to COVID-19, both on application by employer and employee organisations and acting on its own motion. It has assisted employees and employers through the resolution of JobKeeper disputes and has dealt with a large number of applications to vary agreements to help workplaces respond to the challenges posed by the pandemic.
While responding to the consequences of the pandemic, the Commission has also seen an increase in its caseload with substantial increases in the number of unfair dismissal matters and workplace disputes. We have responded by reallocating resources, piloting new methods to deal with matters more efficiently, and through short-term assistance from staff of other Commonwealth agencies. Notwithstanding the increase in caseload, the Commission has maintained its focus on performance and providing an efficient and effective dispute resolution service to the Australian public.
I am pleased to report that we have met all of our key performance indicators from the portfolio budget statements (PBS). Enterprise agreements without undertakings were approved in a median of 17 days and unfair dismissal matters were conciliated in a median of 34 days. We have succeeded in reducing the age of the oldest matters in the system, both for enterprise agreements and for reserved decisions.
Like many workplaces, the Commission shut its counters in March and Members and staff began working from home. The Commission implemented a digital platform that enabled service delivery to be maintained, with applications accepted electronically and almost all conferences and hearings able to be held online. At the end of the reporting period remote hearings continued in most locations and, given its benefits both in efficiency and access to justice, it is likely this will remain a standard service option in the future.
Commissioner Gregory retired and Senior Deputy President Hamberger resigned in the last year. I take this opportunity to acknowledge David Gregory and Jonathan Hamberger for their contributions to the Commission and to the Australian community.
Vale Deputy President Kovacic
Sadly, Deputy President John Kovacic passed away on 31 July 2020. John was appointed as a Deputy President on 12 August 2013 and his sudden passing was deeply felt by the Members and staff of the Commission. The Australian workplace relations community will forever bear the imprint of John Kovacic, and it is better for it. I offer my deepest sympathies to Ruth, Sophie, Nick and all of John’s family – both personally and on the behalf of the Commission.
I look forward to the next reporting period, when we will continue to innovate and improve our services to make sure the Commission meets the ongoing needs of business, government, the community, employer and union organisations, and individuals alike.
Finally, I thank the Commission’s dedicated Members and staff across the country. The last few months have been challenging and you have all worked with passion and enthusiasm to support the Australian community during a time of change and uncertainty.