President's introduction

Head shot photo of Fair Work Commission President Justice Iain Ross AO.

I am pleased to introduce the Fair Work Commission's Annual Report for 2014–15.

The past year has been a busy one. The Commission has piloted and reviewed several initiatives as part of the Future Directions change program and we have continued the significant work involved in the 4 yearly review of modern awards. In addition to these activities we also continued to carry out the Commission's core statutory functions and dealt with over 34,000 applications.

Pilots

This year the Commission has introduced general protections, agreement approval and permission to appeal pilots. All of these pilots are designed to improve the efficiency and quality of the service we provide. All three pilots have shown positive results.

General Protections Pilot

The General Protections Pilot was overseen by Deputy President Kovacic. It involved trained staff conciliators, rather than Members, conducting telephone conferences for s.365 general protections applications from Queensland, Western Australia (WA), and the Australian Capital Territory.

The pilot was independently reviewed during the year and on all key measures – timeliness, settlement rate and client satisfaction – it was a success. The Commission intends to adopt this process for all general protections applications involving dismissal in 2015–16.

Agreements Pilot

The Agreements Pilot, which was overseen by Deputy President Gostencnik, involved a dedicated administrative team undertaking a preliminary assessment of enterprise agreement applications lodged in WA, Tasmania, the ACT, and building and construction industry agreements in Victoria. Following this assessment a report was prepared for the Member to assist in determining the application.

One clear benefit of this approach was timeliness. As the pilot progressed the administrative team became more experienced and the timeframes for assessing agreements improved.

Having a dedicated team assessing agreements has also enabled the Commission to identify trends and common errors made by parties when preparing and lodging agreements.

Throughout 2015–16 the Commission will extend this triage process to more agreement approval applications.

Permission to Appeal Pilot

The Permission to Appeal Pilot commenced in January 2015 and included those types of appeals which our historical data suggested had a higher likelihood of being refused permission to appeal (eg unfair dismissal appeals, because of the higher statutory threshold for permission to appeal). In appropriate cases the time and costs incurred by parties to appeal proceedings may be significantly reduced if the issue of permission to appeal is determined at an early stage, in a separate hearing.

In the pilot, the issue of permission to appeal was determined as a threshold matter. Appellants were required to file a short submission in support of their application for permission to appeal. Respondents were not required to file a written submission but could put oral submissions at the hearing.

All permission to appeal matters were then heard by a single Full Bench either in Sydney or Melbourne in the third week of each month.

This pilot will be reviewed in October 2015, however early feedback is promising.

These pilots are important initiatives to ensure that we continue to deal with all matters efficiently and consistently. They have also provided additional benefits to the Commission, by freeing up Members to concentrate on more complex determinative matters and to list such matters more quickly.

Future Directions

The Commission has continued to implement many of the initiatives that are part of our ongoing Future Directions change program.

We reported on our progress in implementing the second phase of Future Directions in May 2015.

Some of the highlights this year have included the introduction of a new transcript and monitoring service. This will enable the Commission to provide parties with free, secure access to audio files of individual proceedings online.

The Commission has continued to develop further benchbooks and update others, including the Anti-bullying Benchbook which was updated this year.

We also continue to consult with stakeholders, in particular our small business stakeholders, to seek their feedback on how we can better meet their needs.

New Approaches

We highlighted this work in some of the case studies in last year's annual report. This year several more organisations have been involved in the 'New Approaches' pilot program, including House with No Steps, which is featured in a case study this year.

'New Approaches' is still in its infancy; however the case studies are promising examples of how improved workplace relations can result in tangible benefits for all parties involved.

Departing Members

This year has also seen the departure of many long-serving Members of the Commission and I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge their contribution and to thank them for their service.

I would also like to acknowledge and thank our key stakeholders for their feedback and assistance over the past year, particularly in relation to our pilot programs and other Future Directions initiatives.

Finally the Commission's achievements would not be possible without the hard work and commitment of all our Members and staff. I wish to thank them for their ongoing commitment and dedication to serving the Commission and through it, the Australian community.

Signature of Justice Iain Ross

Justice Iain Ross AO