In exercising powers and functions under the Fair Work Act, the Commission assists a range of parties, including employees and employers and their representatives, federally registered unions, and employer organisations.
The Commission offers a wide range of advice and assistance over the telephone, in person and through correspondence and information materials on its website.
Tribunal processes commence once a formal application has been lodged with the Commission.
In 2019-20, a total of 33,989 applications were lodged with the Commission, an increase of approximately 8 per cent compared with 31,415 in 2018-19 and 31,554 in 2017-18. This can be largely attributed to a very significant increase in unfair dismissal and general protection applications in the last quarter of 2019–20 together with the commencement of a new function of dealing with certain JobKeeper disputes. A full list of lodgments by matter type is available in Appendix C: Tables and figures reference data.
In 2019–20, unfair dismissal applications were the most common, accounting for 49 per cent of total applications. In a change from previous years, applications for general protections involving dismissal were the second most common, making up 14 per cent of total applications. Applications for approval of an enterprise agreement were down on previous years, making up 11 per cent of total applications.
Hearings and conferences
In 2019–20, the Commission held 13,106 hearings and conferences around Australia, an increase of 12 per cent compared with a total of 11,702 in 2018–19.
Hearings and conferences are held in each capital city and regional locations. They are held in person, by telephone or by videoconference. Not all matters involve a hearing or conference – some are decided by a Member on the papers.
Members hold hearings and conferences by telephone or videoconference wherever suitable, to reduce parties’ travel time and costs and to ensure efficient use of Commission resources. In 2019–20, 48 per cent of all hearings and conferences conducted by Members were held by telephone or videoconference, compared with 30 per cent in 2018–19. Twenty-two per cent of matters, predominantly applications for approval of enterprise agreements, were decided by a Member on the papers, without the need for a hearing or conference.
In addition, experienced staff conducted 12,963 conciliation conferences during 2019–20, compared with 10,408 in 2018–19. Conciliators hold conferences in relation to applications concerning unfair dismissal, general protections involving dismissal, and anti-bullying. The overwhelming majority of conciliations are conducted by telephone. See Appendix C: Tables and figures reference data for detailed information on hearings and conferences.
The Commission’s portfolio budget statements set out performance standards for timeliness of staff conciliation conferences in unfair dismissal applications, approval of enterprise agreements, and completion of the annual wage review.
In addition, the Commission has set performance benchmarks concerning delivery of reserved decisions by a single Member, dealing with applications for the approval of enterprise agreements, the hearing of appeals, and handing down reserved decisions in appeal matters.
The benchmarks set a standard to which the Commission aspires, as well as quantifiable measures of performance that provide transparency and accountability.
Figures 2 to 4 compare the Tribunal’s performance against benchmarks in 2019–20. There remains room for improvement and timeliness performance will be a significant focus in the year ahead.