The Commission operates in an economic, social and industrial environment that is constantly changing. These environmental factors and legislative changes have resulted in significant changes in the nature of the Commission’s work.

The most significant change is a shift from collective dispute resolution to individual dispute resolution as illustrated by Chart 2.

Chart 2—Matters dealt with by the Commission and its predecessors, 1998–99 to 2013–14

The large spike in individual matters in the 2009–10 financial year primarily reflects a large number of applications to terminate individual agreement-based transitional instruments (16 089 applications). Methodology is at Appendix D.

This change poses two immediate challenges for the Commission. The first challenge concerns the nature of the parties coming before the Commission. Parties to collective disputes such as unions, employer organisations and employers are often ‘repeat players’ and are generally familiar with the legislative environment and our procedures. This is in contrast to parties to individual disputes, who are often unrepresented and may be unfamiliar with the provisions of the Fair Work Act and the Commission’s procedures. As a consequence we have an obligation to explain these matters to self-represented parties.

The shift in the nature of our work also has implications for our stakeholder base. We have an increasing obligation to engage more broadly with the wider community.

The changing nature of the Commission’s work obliges us to adapt as an organisation to reflect the evolving needs of the parties who appear before us. The ongoing Future Directions change program is one way we are responding to this obligation.

Future Directions change program

Future Directions is a change program launched by the President in October 2012 to improve our performance and the quality of the services we provide. It delivers initiatives under four key themes:

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

When the Commission launched Future Directions we set ourselves the ambitious target of delivering 25 initiatives by December 2013. By 6 December 2013, all 25 initiatives had been successfully delivered, including several additional initiatives. The implementation of Future Directions has already significantly improved the services we provide the community.

After a period of review and reflection, the Commission commenced the next phase of our change program in May 2014, identifying 30 further initiatives to be delivered in the next two years.

The initiatives are a result of consultation with Commission Members, staff and key stakeholders. While these initiatives will help guide the Commission’s activities over the coming two years, the change program is flexible enough to adapt to the changing needs of the community to include additional initiatives.

Completion of phase one

The first phase of Future Directions was launched in October 2012. The implementation of phase one spanned two reporting periods and a number of initiatives were completed in time to be reported in the 2012–13 annual report. By December 2013 all 25 initiatives were completed.

Promoting fairness and improving access

A wide variety of materials were developed and improved to help parties who appear before the Commission, including improved unfair dismissal and general protections information for self-represented parties, simplified application forms, a virtual tour of the Commission, an upgraded website, a series of benchbooks, a fair hearings practice note, a pro bono lawyer program and general protections pilot program.

Information on these and other initiatives can be found in Appendix E.

Efficiency and innovation

The Commission implemented a number of innovations and initiatives directed at improving the efficient delivery of our services, including by developing an online application tool and daily hearings lists for smartphones and tablets. The Commission trialled SMS alerts for hearings and conferences and regional matter allocation, and upgraded our video conferencing facilities. Timeliness benchmarks for reserved decisions and for finalising applications to approve agreements continued to be monitored and published and an appeals practice note was introduced.

Information on these and other initiatives can be found in Appendix F.

Increasing accountability

Like any justice institution the Commission is accountable to the community it serves. To support our aim of increasing accountability, a Member Code of Conduct, information on unfair dismissal outcomes and updates on the Future Directions initiatives have all been made public. Further, user groups have been established to facilitate an exchange of views.

Information on these and other initiatives can be found in Appendix G.

Productivity and engaging with industry

We improved the Commission’s enterprise agreement search tool, continued to work cooperatively with other organisations and developed a broad engagement strategy in consultation with the major peak employer and union bodies.

Information on these and other initiatives can be found in Appendix H.

Commencement of phase two

The second phase of Future Directions was launched in May 2014. It builds on the foundation of the first phase and includes an evaluation of some of the work already undertaken and the introduction of several new pilot projects. The change program was developed through an extensive consultation process with Commission Members, staff, key stakeholders and the community generally.

The second phase of Future Directions contains 30 initiatives to be implemented over a two-year period.

Promoting fairness and improving access

The Commission will continue to improve access to information and examine more effective ways of using technology in order to promote fairness and improve access. Virtual tours covering appeals, general protections and anti-bullying will be produced, and an information kiosk will be piloted in the Sydney Registry. Processes for Commission staff to identify issues where self-represented applicants may benefit from seeking legal advice will be introduced, and the Commission will continue reviewing and updating its forms.

Information on these and other initiatives can be found in Appendix E.

Efficiency and innovation

To improve efficiency and innovation, the Commission will conduct its first paperless annual wage review. Free WiFi access for visitors to the Commission and SMS alerts for parties to unfair dismissal matters will be introduced. An improved electronic case management system and a review of processes for the approval of enterprise agreements will ensure timely and efficient resolution of matters.

Information on these and other initiatives can be found in Appendix F.

Increasing accountability

In order to increase our accountability, the Commission will develop additional timeliness benchmarks for unfair dismissal matters and run a pilot program to provide clients with selected application benchmark information as a guide to how long their application may take to be dealt with through to finalisation. The Commission will facilitate a review of our performance indicator framework and options will be investigated for research into measures to improve the Commission’s public value. A snapshot of a day in the life of the Commission will be captured to better understand and improve how our clients use Commission information and services. During the next two years we will evaluate ourselves against the International Framework for Tribunal Excellence to assist us to identify new ways to improve our performance.

Information on these and other initiatives can be found in Appendix G.

Productivity and engaging with industry

The current program of mock hearings will be expanded, new user groups will be developed, and existing services for small businesses will be reviewed and further developed. An extensive communications strategy will be developed. The Commission will also continue to promote cooperative and productive workplace relations, and to engage with the research community. In addition to the extensive Australian Workplace Relations Study, research to map the location and business needs of parties and research into productivity-enhancing clauses in enterprise agreements will be undertaken.

Information on these and other initiatives can be found in Appendix H.