Inquiries from the public

A significant part of the Commission’s resources are dedicated to dealing with inquiries from the public, which come via the Commission’s website, telephone inquiry line, through email or visits to our offices in each capital city. For a full list of Commission offices see Appendix J.

Website visits

The Commission’s website is a major point of contact between the Commission and the community we serve. During the year the Commission launched a new website. The Commission’s website was visited 3 259 939 times in 2013–14. While this represents a slight reduction in web traffic compared to visitors for 2012–13 (10 per cent), visits increased on mobile phone and tablet devices (up by 14.5 per cent and 19.3 per cent respectively). This change reflects broad technological shifts towards these devices. In keeping with these developments, the new website uses responsive technology to ensure it is accessible on all devices. For further information on the Commission’s new website see In focus—New website.

Chart 3—Website visits

For source data see Table K2.

The Commission has this year significantly increased the video content available on our website and through our YouTube channel. Over the year the videos were viewed more than 18 000 times.

Further resources dedicated to the Commission’s online presence this year included the launch of a video-based virtual tour of unfair dismissal matters, in addition to the ongoing maintenance and publishing of information materials. For further information on the virtual tour initiative see In focus—Virtual tour.

Telephone inquiries

The Commission provides a central information service to assist the general public with information about the processes and procedures of the Commission. Telephone inquiries are also made directly to each Registry. The Commission received 208 102 telephone calls during the year. Fifty five per cent of these callers self-selected to end the call through messages that referred them to other agencies or the Commission’s website. 93 312 callers selected a Commission call queue, of which 71 839 inquiries were answered.

These calls are answered by Registry staff, with the workload spread around the country to accommodate different time zones and peaks and troughs in the flow of incoming calls. Call wait times during the reporting period have been consistently around one minute and 44 seconds. This is a significant improvement compared to previous years, for instance in 2012 call wait times were up to 20 minutes.

Efficiencies were also achieved through functionality which allowed clients to provide us with information such as a contact telephone number for conciliation, without needing to speak with a team member.

Applications lodged

In 2013–14 the Commission received 37 066 applications. This marks an increase of 1 per cent from last financial year. The Commission dealt with these applications in 19 620 hearings and conferences, resulting in 13 302 decisions, orders and determinations. This marks an increase of 3.3 per cent and 14 per cent respectively.

Chart 4—Applications lodged, hearings and conferences, and decisions and orders published

The timeframe between lodgment and allocation has decreased. Ninety seven per cent of applications were processed within two business days of receipt. The Registry has continued the initiative of distributing application processing across Registry locations nationally. This load sharing approach assists to better manage the peaks and troughs of lodgments in larger Registries. There has been a consistent increase in applications being processed in locations other than the place of lodgment (3 per cent in 2011–12, 10 per cent in 2012–13 and 17 per cent in 2013–14). See Table 1 for lodgment of all matters by location.

Table 1—Lodgment of all matters by location
Location 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 Annual variation
%
Adelaide 2378 2225 2174 -2.3
Brisbane 5894 5963 5692 -4.5
Canberra 819 754 625 -17.1
Darwin 314 390 409 4.9
Hobart 614 633 658 3.9
Melbourne 14 826 13 608 13 857 1.8
Newcastle 81 314 266 -15.3
Perth 3169 3675 3614 -1.7
Sydney 9323 9014 9716 7.8
Wollongong 26 40 55 37.5
Total 37 444 36 616 37 066 1.2

The national distribution of application processing has resulted in a more effective use of staff resources, particularly in locations with lower numbers of applications. The flow on effect of this is that the timeframe within which applications are processed has continued to decrease.

Promoting fairness and improving access

In the latter half of 2014 the Commission plans to pilot an information kiosk in the Sydney Registry. This will enable visitors to the office to complete and lodge forms electronically rather than in hardcopy, and access the full suite of information and tools available on the Commission’s website. Commission staff will also be available to provide assistance if required.

Trends in case load type

This year the Commission’s overall case load remained relatively steady. The numbers do, however, reflect the general trend of a decrease in collective dispute matters dealt with by the Commission and an increase in the number of individual disputes.

Individual matters continue to make up a significant proportion of the Commission’s workload. Consistent with previous years the greatest numbers of applications are for unfair dismissal. Whilst this year there was a slight decline in the number of unfair dismissal applications received there was also an increase of 18.5 per cent in the number of applications for general protections involving dismissal. In recognition of this the Commission continues to develop materials to assist unrepresented parties who may be appearing before the Commission for the first time.

Collective disputes have also remained relatively stable this year. Whilst there has been a 13.6 per cent increase in dispute resolution applications, the numbers of applications for orders relating to industrial action has continued to decline, decreasing by over 22 per cent this financial year.

Chart 5—Case load by matter type

For source data see Table K3. For a full breakdown of numbers of applications by section of legislation see Table K4.

There has also been an increase in the number of appeals dealt with by the Commission (an increase of 71 matters for 2013–14, representing an increase of 49.7 per cent). Due to the small number of appeal matters, even minor fluctuations will appear as a large percentage change. Despite the increase in appeals lodged, appeals represent only 1 per cent of all hearings and conferences, and only 1.6 per cent of all orders and decisions published. Of the appeals determined from 1 July 2013 to 30 June 2014, 60 per cent were dismissed, while 40 per cent were upheld. Refer to Table 2 for full details. This financial year the Commission commenced reporting on appeal outcomes on our website.

Table 2—Outcomes of appeals determined from 1 July 2013 to 30 June 2014
Matter type Appeals upheld Appeals dismissed Total appeals determined
Unfair dismissals 23 50 73
Agreement approvals 6 5 11
s.739 disputes 6 8 14
Industrial action 5 3 8
Modern awards 6 2 8
Bargaining disputes 3 3 6
Miscellaneous 5 12 17
Organisation 2 0 2
Total 56 83 139

Hearings and conferences

This year the Commission held 19 620 hearings and conferences, an increase of 3.3 per cent. Hearings and conferences are held around Australia, including in our offices located in each capital city, in regional locations and by video and telephone conference. See Table 3 for a breakdown of hearings and conferences by location.

Table 3—Hearings and conferences by location
City/Town Number
Adelaide 284
Brisbane 1359
Canberra 214
Darwin 41
Hobart 70
Melbourne 3653
Newcastle 230
Perth 727
Sydney 2572
Wollongong 133
Other places 356
In chambers 6028
Telephone* 3198
Video 755
Total 19 620
* Does not include telephone conferences conducted by administrative staff.

Increasing accessibility

During the reporting period the Commission significantly upgraded our video conferencing facilities and increased our capacity for simultaneous video conferences across Australia resulting in superior quality and reliability.

The Commission has plans to implement new features to the video conferencing system such as the use of Skype and the ability to connect from personal computers or mobile devices, which will provide greater accessibility for clients of the Commission.

Trends in Commission sittings

A number of factors drive which proceedings and activities the Commission undertakes, including the needs of our clients and stakeholders and our requirements under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Fair Work Act).

Chart 6 provides an overview of four significant case types and their associated sittings for matters at the Commission between 1 July 2009 and 30 June 2014. Sittings refer to conferences and court usage for hearings, directions and mentions.

Chart 6—Number of sittings for various types of applications, 2009–10 to 2013–14

Methodology is at Appendix L.

Many of the major processes that the Commission undertakes, such as the modern awards review and the annual wage review, commence in accordance with statutory requirements and the work associated with these major functions may not be reflected in the number of applications made. These matters are referred to as legislative reviews. The chart therefore demonstrates the impact that particular matters may have on the Commission’s workload which is not reflected in applications data.

General trends over the past five years include an increase in sittings for unfair dismissal matters and a decline in the number of sittings for matters relating to agreements and industrial action. This generally corresponds with observed shifts in applications to the Commission during this time.

The peaks and troughs over the years for sittings relating to legislative reviews correspond with the timetable established under the Fair Work Act. In 2009–10, legislative reviews almost entirely comprised award modernisation matters under sections 576E and 576H of the Workplace Relations Act 1996. The number of sittings increased from 19 in 2010–11 to 2691 in 2011–12 when the Part 10A modern award process (variation and termination of certain transitional instruments) took place. This process involved 2181 hearing dates across Australia. The remaining 499 sittings that year were allocated for the Transitional Review of all modern awards pursuant to Schedule 5, Item 6 of the Fair Work (Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments) Act 2009.

A similar peak is expected during the 2014–15 financial year as these legislative reviews progress to conference, mention, directions and hearings.