I am pleased to introduce the Fair Work Commission’s annual report for 2020–21.
This past year has again been a busy and challenging time for the Commission, as it has for the Australian community generally. Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission has maintained its focus on performance and providing an efficient and effective dispute resolution service to the Australian public.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Commission has played a role in helping workplaces respond to the economic impacts of the pandemic. The Commission has acted quickly, either on its own motion or on application by employer and employee organisations, to vary modern awards to provide workplace flexibilities for employers and employees. It continued to assist employees and employers through the resolution of JobKeeper disputes whilst that jurisdiction was in operation, and has dealt with an increased number of applications to vary agreements to help workplaces respond to the challenges posed by the pandemic.
Many of the Commission’s services were provided remotely over the reporting period through the use of digital platforms that enabled us to accept applications electronically and conduct hearings and conferences online. This has allowed us to continue to provide efficient, accessible services to the Australian community, whilst Members and staff have continued to work from home. Due to the benefits both in efficiency and access to justice, remote hearings will remain a standard service option for the Commission in the future.
I am pleased to report that we have met all of our key performance indicators from the portfolio budget statement (PBS), and timeliness has continued to improve in key areas. In 2020–21, enterprise agreements without undertakings were approved in a median of 14 days (down from 17 days in 2019-20) and unfair dismissal matters were conciliated in a median of 21 days (down from 34 days in 2019–20). We have also improved our performance against our 8 and 12-week benchmarks for issuing reserved decisions.
The Workplace Advice Service has had another successful year, and together we have continued to provide a valuable access to justice service to people in need of legal assistance. In 2020–21, we expanded the Service to cover all states and territories and assisted 3406 clients, an increase of 42 per cent. After bringing new partner organisations on board during the year, we now have 90 partner organisations participating in the Service, compared to around 60 at the start of the reporting period. I extend my thanks to all participating partner organisations for their contribution.
Another important accessibility measure is the redevelopment of the Commission’s website. After conducting extensive user experience research and consultation with employees, employers and representatives over the past year, the Commission is re-writing our website content in plain language. I look forward to the release of the Commission’s new website in the year ahead.
Deputy President Sams and Deputy President Booth both retired in the last year. I take this opportunity to acknowledge Peter Sams and Anna Booth for their contributions to the Commission and to the Australian community.
I also take this opportunity to acknowledge the contribution of the former General Manager of the Commission, Bernadette O’Neill, who resigned as General Manager following her appointment as a Commissioner.
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 past year has been challenging and you have all worked with passion and commitment to support the Australian community during a time of ongoing change and uncertainty.