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Delivery of Commission services

In exercising powers and functions under the Fair Work Act, the Commission assists a range of parties, including workers, employees and employers and their representatives, federally registered unions, and employer organisations.

The Commission offers a wide range of information and assistance over the telephone, in person, through correspondence and on its website.


Tribunal processes commence once a formal application has been lodged with the Commission.

In 2020–21, a total of 29,631 applications were lodged with the Commission, a decrease of approximately 13 per cent compared with 33,989 in 2019–20 and 31,415 in 2018–19. This can be largely attributed to a return to more normal volumes of unfair dismissal and general protection applications, down from the significantly higher lodgments experienced in the second half of 2019–20. In addition, the Commission’s function of dealing with JobKeeper disputes under Part 6-4C of the Fair Work Act largely ceased in March 2021. A full list of lodgments by matter type is available in Appendix C: Tables and figures reference data.

Similar to previous years, unfair dismissal applications were the most common application lodged with the Commission, accounting for 45 per cent of total applications. General protections involving dismissal applications were again the second-most-common application, making up 14 per cent of total applications. Applications for approval of an enterprise agreement were the third-most-common application type, comprising 13 per cent of total applications.

Hearings and conferences

In 2020–21, Commission Members held 12,287 hearings and conferences around Australia. This was a decrease of 2 per cent from 13,106 in 2019–20, reflecting the unusually high number of applications received in that year, but an increase of 10 per cent from the 11,702 hearing and conferences conducted in 2018–19. See Appendix C: Tables and figures reference data for detailed information on hearings and conferences.

Hearings and conferences are held in each capital city and in 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 comply with social distancing requirements, reduce parties’ travel time and costs and to ensure efficient use of Commission resources. In 2020–21, 69 per cent of all hearings and conferences conducted by Members were held by telephone or videoconference, compared with 48 per cent in 2019–20. Twenty 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.

Conciliators can hold conferences in relation to applications concerning unfair dismissal, general protections involving dismissal, and anti-bullying. In addition to hearings and conferences conducted by Commission Members, experienced staff conducted 10,522 conciliation conferences for unfair dismissal applications during 2020–21, compared with 12,965 in 2019–20 and 10,408 in 2018–19. Staff also conducted 3,959 conciliation conferences for general protections involving dismissal matters. The overwhelming majority of conciliations are conducted by telephone.

Decisions and orders

In 2020–21, the Commission issued a total of 9,951 decisions and orders, a slight decrease from 2019–20, as set out in Appendix C: Tables and figures reference data.

Timeliness benchmarks

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.

Figure 2: Timeliness benchmarks – reserved decisions to Figure 4: Timeliness benchmarks – reserved decisions in appeals compare the Tribunal’s performance against benchmarks in 2020–21. The Commission achieved improvements in the timeliness of most application types and against most benchmarks in the reporting period.

Figure 2: Timeliness benchmarks – reserved decisions

Figure 3: Timeliness benchmarks – appeals

Figure 4: Timeliness benchmarks – reserved decisions in appeals