General Manager Bernadette O'Neill

Bernadette O’Neill, General Manager

Through its work as the national workplace relations tribunal the Fair Work Commission touches the lives of most Australians by:

  • setting the minimum wage and award safety net provisions
  • dealing with workplace bargaining and disputation, and
  • dealing with individual matters including unfair dismissal and anti-bullying applications.

The challenge we face, along with most public organisations, is to efficiently deliver quality services within the resources provided by Government. This challenge is likely to increase in coming years.

It is against this backdrop that I am pleased to provide an update on some of the significant achievements of the Commission’s administration this year and our focus for next year and beyond.

Anti-bullying jurisdiction

The new anti-bullying jurisdiction commenced in January 2014. Creating the processes to support this new work was challenging as there was no similar jurisdiction in Australia, or internationally, for us to look to for guidance on how to proceed.

In developing the processes to deal with anti-bullying matters we consulted extensively with stakeholders. We also invested considerable time in developing information materials that clearly explain the jurisdiction and how we deal with applications. We are continuing to review and refine our processes as the jurisdiction develops.

Given the unique nature of the jurisdiction it was impossible to predict the number of applications that might be received once the jurisdiction commenced. Over the first six months we received more than 100 000 website inquiries and more than 3500 telephone inquiries related to anti-bullying. This resulted in around 350 applications being received, with a gradual increase in applications lodged each month. However it is still too early in the life of the jurisdiction for us to come to firm conclusions about the future workloads we may face in this area.

Registered organisations

I am pleased to report significant achievements in our role as the regulator for nationally registered organisations.

A little over two years ago we made a conscious change in our approach to our regulatory compliance, which I commented on in last year’s annual report. The essence of the change was to become more proactive, which has already achieved significant results. For example, in 2009–10 only 63 per cent of registered organisations lodged annual reports on time, whereas in 2013–14 that figure has risen dramatically to 95 per cent.

Results like these have been achieved through measures including:

  • providing tools to make voluntary compliance easier for organisations
  • supplying model financial reports
  • raising awareness among organisations, and
  • more quickly following up and addressing non-compliance.

An unprecedented number of formal inquiries and investigations have been undertaken including four investigations into the Musicians’ Union of Australia, which are likely to result in Federal Court proceedings being commenced in the next financial year.

Future Directions

As the President has reported, our Future Directions change program has had a significant impact on how we deliver our services and I am extremely proud of the work our staff has done in delivering all 25 initiatives in the first phase of the program.

Another 30 initiatives are to be delivered over the next two years in the second phase of this important change program. These will further improve the Commission’s accessibility, efficiency and accountability while extending its role in the national conversation on productivity and engagement.

Budget challenges

Looking forward we know that we must be ever mindful of our ongoing budgetary constraints.

We understand that there is an expectation that we will continue to deliver great service that meets community expectations and delivers genuine public value. We know that the trend toward a greater number of individual matters is likely to continue. We are also aware of likely changes to our functions and any associated budgetary impact.

With this in mind we are now setting up processes to ensure we are on a sustainable budgetary footing into the future. We understand that this means we must find innovative ways to become more efficient, including reducing manual processes and improving productivity by making greater use of technology.

One of the projects we are undertaking toward this goal is a comprehensive review and upgrade of our case management system to enable parties, and us, to better lodge and access information relating to matters before the Commission. This upgrade will be substantially progressed in the year ahead.

Delivering public value

The past year has been one of change, innovation and improvement—none of which would have been possible without the remarkable efforts of our staff. I thank them for their commitment and service to the Commission and the Australian community.

Our challenges will continue over the next year. But we have the plans—and people—in place to ensure that we continue to meet them.

Bernadette O’Neill