Welcome to the Fair Work Commission annual report for 2019-20.
Like so many organisations, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented shift in the way we work. Our primary focus has been to put the health of our people first so that we could continue to deliver our services. In March, almost all Members and staff moved to home-based working arrangements and wherever possible began holding hearings and conferences remotely.
We have been able to continue delivering all our services throughout the pandemic and these services have been relied upon by the community. The Commission has been able to respond very quickly to the needs of employers and employees by varying awards and agreements to provide workplaces with flexibility and by dealing with claims and disputes, including the new JobKeeper jurisdiction, through telephone and video proceedings.
The Commission experienced a net increase of 8 per cent in applications in 2019-20. This is largely the result of dramatic shifts in the last quarter, between March and June 2020, in which applications increased by almost 20 per cent overall. During this period the Commission’s highest volume case type, unfair dismissal applications, increased by more than 40 per cent. At the same time, fewer applications were lodged in other case types, such as applications to approve enterprise agreements.
I am pleased to report that against this backdrop we were able to maintain timely performance and meet the Portfolio Budget Statement performance measures including conducting conciliation conferences in unfair dismissal cases within a median of 34 days, and approve enterprise agreements that don’t require undertakings in a median of 17 days. The Annual wage review was successfully conducted entirely remotely.
I am grateful to the Attorney-General’s Department and the Federal Court of Australia who provided staff for several weeks which assisted us greatly.
The pandemic has demonstrated the Commission’s capacity to adapt and respond quickly to change and reflects the very strong commitment of our workforce to serve the community. We will in the year ahead reflect on and review the lessons to be learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and look for opportunities to further improve our services. We will continue to improve the way we deliver information and services to the community. We remain committed to using behavioural insights and user experience design to improve our digital platforms and information resources. Again, our primary focus will remain on ensuring access to justice for all Australian employers and employees.
This annual report is significantly shorter than recent years. We have followed Department of Finance guidance earlier this year, that the content of annual reports be confined to the mandatory reporting requirements of the PGPA Rule.
Finally, to all our Members and staff at the Commission I thank you for your ongoing commitment. The resilience and professionalism you have shown through the challenges faced in 2019-20 is appreciated. Without your dedication we could not have continued to deliver our services to the Australian community through the bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic.