Fair Work Commission Annual Report introduction

Justice Iain Ross AO

I am pleased to introduce the Fair Work Commission’s annual report for 2013–14. The past reporting period has been busy, with the introduction of the new anti-bullying jurisdiction, a significant change to the Commission’s functions, as well as our ongoing focus on our Future Directions change program.

The new anti-bullying jurisdiction commenced on 1 January 2014. The Commission published a Case Management Model and benchbook prior to this to assist employers and workers to understand the new jurisdiction. The Case Management Model was developed having regard to the particular nature of the new jurisdiction and followed consultation with the peak industrial organisations (ACCI, the ACTU and Ai Group), Work Health and Safety regulators and professionals working in the field.

Our approach aims to deliver a practical, efficient and fair process, and has enabled us to meet our statutory requirements regarding timeliness, as well as assist parties to resolve matters through more informal processes where appropriate. We will, of course, continue to review and refine the process over time.

The Fair Work Amendment Act 2013 also conferred a new statutory function on the Commission, ‘to promote cooperative and productive workplace relations and prevent disputes’ (section 576(2)(aa)). To give effect to this we have been working on significant workplace engagement projects to assist parties at the enterprise level to resolve issues before they become formal disputes. The Sydney Water and Orora Fibre Packaging case studies in this annual report provide examples of this work.

Last year we launched our comprehensive change program, Future Directions. The objective of this is to enhance the public value provided by the Commission through a focus on four key objectives:

  • promoting fairness and improving access
  • encouraging efficiency and innovation
  • increasing accountability, and
  • improving productivity and engaging with industry.

The first stage of Future Directions was launched in October 2012 and contained 25 initiatives, all of which have been successfully implemented, including:

  • the introduction of new plain English resources explaining key provisions relating to individual disputes, such as unfair dismissals and unlawful terminations
  • the launch of a series of videos providing a virtual tour of the Tribunal
  • running a pilot program with providers of pro bono legal services in unfair dismissal jurisdictional hearings, to provide greater access to legal advice for self-represented parties
  • updating application forms to provide more detail about the types of information to include and how to lodge and serve the documents
  • allowing all application forms to be lodged electronically
  • trialling SMS alerts for upcoming hearing and conference dates, and
  • upgrading video conferencing facilities to allow greater accessibility to the Tribunal and decrease costs for parties and the Commission.

The implementation of the first stage of Future Directions has significantly improved the services we provide to the community. There is, of course, always more that can be done. Accordingly, in May 2014, the Commission launched Future Directions II which sets out 30 initiatives we intend to implement throughout 2014 and 2015. These include:

  • exploring ways to provide better services to small businesses
  • piloting a program to provide clients with selected application benchmark information as a guide to how long their application may take to be dealt with
  • providing access to audio files of most Commission hearings
  • conducting the Commission’s first paperless annual wage review, and
  • conducting and publishing qualitative research to identify clauses in enterprise agreements that enhance productivity or innovation.

These new initiatives are directed at ensuring that the Commission fulfils its role as an accessible, fair, efficient and accountable national institution.

Like any court or tribunal, the Commission depends on community support for its legitimacy. Accountability and transparency are fundamental to that support. To support this, we currently report against a range of timeliness benchmarks including the determination of agreement approval applications, listing of appeals and delivery of reserved decisions. In 2014 we will develop an enhanced performance indicator framework to provide greater accountability across a broader range of matters and will have that performance framework externally reviewed. We intend to introduce a new range of performance measures from 1 July 2015.

All of the Future Directions initiatives aim to respond to the changing nature of our work, from a tribunal dealing predominantly with collective disputes between represented parties, to an increasing number of self-represented citizens pursuing individual rights-based disputes. The initiatives also recognise the continuing importance of the Commission’s role in promoting cooperative and productive workplace relations.

I wish to acknowledge and thank our key stakeholders for their contribution to the work of the Commission, in particular, in relation to the Future Directions program.

I would also like to welcome Deputy President Kovacic who joined the Commission in September last year and to thank and acknowledge those Members who retired or resigned their appointments during the reporting period: Commissioner Macdonald; Deputy President Parsons and Expert Panel Member Allen.

Finally, the Commission’s commitment to serving the Australian community would not be possible without the ongoing hard work and dedication of our Members and staff. I would like to take this opportunity to extend my thanks to them for their commitment and ongoing efforts to support the work of the Commission.

Justice Iain Ross AO