Future Directions – Continuing the Change Program

The Commission launched Future DirectionsContinuing the Change Program in May 2014 identifying 30 initiatives to be delivered over a two-year period. As the Commission enters the second stage of the program, it is evaluating some of the work already undertaken in stage one, and introducing new pilot projects. Initiatives delivered under the program are grouped under four key themes:

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

The initiatives are a result of consultation with Commission Members, staff and key stakeholders. These initiatives continue to guide the Commission's activities, while maintaining sufficient flexibility to meet the changing needs of the Australian community. At the end of the reporting period, more than half of the 30 initiatives had been delivered.

Promoting fairness and improving access

Benchbooks

The Commission publishes a series of benchbooks on unfair dismissal, anti-bullying, enterprise bargaining and general protections legislation that are designed to assist parties to prepare for matters before the Commission. The benchbooks are available on the Commission's website and are regularly reviewed to ensure they are kept up to date with current case law. During the reporting period the Commission reviewed and updated the existing Unfair Dismissal, General Protections and Anti-bullying Benchbooks.

In March this year the Commission launched the Enterprise Agreements Benchbook and work is underway on an industrial action benchbook.

The Enterprise Agreements Benchbook is designed to help parties seeking to make an enterprise agreement.

The benchbooks have become a popular resource for workplace relations practitioners and unrepresented parties. The Commission's webpage dedicated to benchbooks was visited more than 127,000 times by approximately 47,000 separate users during the reporting period.

The statistics for each benchbook are as follows:

Total number of users: 47,139*
Total number of page views: 127,301

Anti-bullying (URL changed in May 2015)
Total number of users: (2540 + 4658) 7198
Total number of page views: (4250 + 8356) 12,606

Enterprise Agreements (launched in May 2015)
Total number of users: 4040
Total number of page views: 9600

General Protections
Total number of users: 18,980
Total number of page views: 46,114

Unfair Dismissals
Total number of users: 22,069
Total number of page views: 57,052

* Please note the total number of users may differ from the tally of users referred to for each individual benchbook as some users have accessed more than one benchbook. Equally the total number of page views may also differ to the individual statistics as some users have accessed the benchbook page on the website without then opening an individual benchbook.

Access to audio files of Commission hearings

The Commission has worked closely with its monitoring and transcript provider to develop the infrastructure necessary to allow parties to access audio files of their proceedings. A secure external website has been developed and is currently undergoing user testing, and request protocols are also being finalised. Parties will be able to request access to audio files of their proceedings by the end of 2015.

Pro bono schemes

The Commission's pro bono legal scheme provides unrepresented parties with free legal assistance in unfair dismissal jurisdictional hearings in Melbourne and Sydney.

The Melbourne scheme emerged from a successful pilot program that concluded in December 2013. The RMIT Centre for Innovative Justice reviewed the pilot program, and the Commission used their review recommendations to modify the service to better meet the needs of parties.

The Commission relaunched the Melbourne pro bono scheme as an ongoing program on 1 July 2014.

A roster of Melbourne law firms who have volunteered to provide independent legal advice to unrepresented parties prior to their hearing, forms the basis of the program. From 1 July 2015 the scheme was expanded to include regional Victoria with the participation of regional law firms. A scheme also operates in Sydney.

The Melbourne and Sydney schemes will be reviewed in the next 12 months to ensure they are working as effectively as possible.

Pilot information kiosk in Sydney

An information kiosk has been established on a trial basis in the Sydney Registry. By allowing people to complete and lodge forms and to access relevant information online, the kiosk assists people who do not have ready access to the internet or who have attended one of the Commission's offices in person. The Commission will consider expanding kiosk facilities to other registries once its online lodgment service is fully implemented. The Commission is also seeking feedback from users about their experiences using the Sydney Registry's information kiosk.

Produce virtual tours covering general protections and anti-bullying

Virtual tours are videos and supporting plain English web text that aim to explain the Commission's functions and processes in a simple, user-friendly way to help reduce the anxiety felt by unrepresented parties when attending the Commission.

In December 2013, the Commission launched the first phase of its virtual tour, detailing the key processes in relation to unfair dismissals and providing information about each of its offices.

Phase two of the virtual tour is expected to be delivered in early 2015–16. The Commission is developing videos and web text about anti-bullying plus a video-based mock hearing for unrepresented parties. The anti-bullying virtual tour will provide a detailed explanation of this relatively new jurisdiction, including how to make an application, how to respond to an application and how the Commission will deal with a matter once an application is made.

A mock hearing virtual tour will address many of the common issues faced by unrepresented parties when taking part in a hearing or conference, such as cross-examining witnesses and the matters that an applicant or respondent should address when presenting their case.

The Commission has also conducted pilot programs for both the general protections and appeals jurisdictions and is now considering producing video-based virtual tours relating to these jurisdictions in 2015–16.

Processes for Commission staff to identify issues where self-represented applicants may wish to seek legal advice

The Commission has implemented new procedures for managing unfair dismissal and general protections files. In situations where applications are lodged out of time, or where applicants have not met the minimum employment period, applicants are now provided with greater information about how their matter will be processed. The Commission will continue to assess the effectiveness of these new procedures in 2015–16.

Review and update all forms

The Commission is continuing to revise the forms for making and responding to applications to the tribunal. The review aims to make the forms easier to complete and to ensure that the Commission has all relevant information it needs when considering an application. The Commission anticipates that the review will reduce the need to contact clients for further information prior to proceedings commencing.

The Commission is updating forms by:

  • adding a cover sheet giving guidance on who can use the form, a brief description of the type of application, where to get help and how to lodge the form
  • adding questions that ensure parties provide all of the information relevant to their application
  • including links to relevant guides and icons that alert parties to information to assist in answering questions.

To date, 41 out of 96 forms have been reviewed. The Commission aims to complete this project by mid 2016.

Improve access to information and advice

During 2014–15 the Commission:

  • Published webinars concerning the obligations of federally registered organisations and educational videos (including mock hearings).
  • Enhanced the capacity to search collective agreements, adding a further 58,000 historical industrial agreements (approved before 1 July 2009) to the enterprise agreement database.
  • Following last year's website platform upgrade, conducted an extensive review of the website's usability, content and search functions in preparation for a further website upgrade in 2015–16.

Examine effective use of technology

In 2014–15 the Commission expanded its use of live streaming, with more than 250 unique website visitors watching the two final consultation sessions for the annual wage review. Consistent with previous years, the decision was also live streamed with more than 800 unique website visitors watching it on the day. This also allowed real-time outreach for the media and stakeholders, and reduced their reliance on the written decision.

The Commission also live streamed the Australian Workplace Relations Study Conference and workshop over three days in late June, allowing interested stakeholders to 'virtually' attend the conference, either in real time or later through links on the Commission website.

Efficiency and innovation

Wi-fi access

Since July 2014 all Commission offices and hearing rooms have provided wi-fi access for visitors. Information about using the wi-fi service appears on the Commission's website at Guest wi-fi service terms & conditions.

SMS alerts

The Commission has identified a number of key areas in which SMS alerts could provide timely reminders and information to clients, primarily concerning unfair dismissal matters listed before Commission Members.

During the reporting period the Commission has commenced using an SMS system for hearings dealing with unfair dismissals and is preparing to make further changes to the case management system to expand the availability of SMS as an additional means of communicating with clients.

Efficiency

The Commission will introduce a facility permitting bulk lodgment of multiple, related applications and smart forms as part of a new electronic case management system which is being introduced in 2016. Further detail on the introduction of the new electronic case management system is provided below.

Electronic case management system

The Commission has been reviewing its current electronic case management system with the aim of implementing a new system that meets its future needs and those of its clients. In 2014–15 the Commission consulted with Commission Members and staff to identify desirable system features. In early 2015 the Commission issued a request for information to gain an understanding of market capability to fulfil the potential requirements of a new case management system. The Commission will finalise business requirements during the second half of the 2015 calendar year and then develop a business case for a new case management system.

Review processes for approval of enterprise agreements

A pilot program for the triage of enterprise agreement approval applications commenced on 6 October 2014 and ran until 30 June 2015. Under the pilot, which was overseen by Deputy President Gostencnik, administrative staff conducted a preliminary assessment for Members of a portion of enterprise agreement applications in selected industries and geographic locations. An external review in May 2015 found that administrative staff had effectively and efficiently assessed applications in accordance with the Fair Work Act and to the satisfaction of Commission Members.

Following the review, the President decided to extend the triage process in stages during the remainder of 2015. From 1 July 2015, a greater range of enterprise agreement approval applications have been progressively referred to the pilot. Deputy President Gostencnik will continue to supervise the triage process with the assistance of Deputy President Kovacic and Commissioners Roe, Lee and Gregory. The Commission anticipates that by 1 October 2015, more than 70 per cent of agreement approval applications will be assessed by the triage process. See Agreements Pilot In Focus.

Increasing accountability

The Commission's performance against the International Framework for Tribunal Excellence

Assessing the Commission against the International Framework for Tribunal Excellence has been deferred until the other Future Directions initiatives have been implemented.

Day in the life of the Commission

In the first two weeks of February 2015 the Commission took a snapshot survey of a day in the life of the Commission to capture client satisfaction with any of its services that were provided on that day.

Survey participants completed a hardcopy questionnaire and the findings were published on the Commission's website shortly after the close of the reporting period. Most measures were ranked highly, particularly satisfaction with Commission Members and staff. The survey reinforced findings from the website usability review, which was also conducted in the first half of 2015, expressing the need to further improve the website's navigation, search function and the adequacy of resources for clients from a non-English speaking background.

Application benchmark information

This initiative is aimed at providing parties with indicative information about average times taken for different types of applications to be finalised. Completion of this project is expected by the end of 2015.

Performance indicator framework

The Commission has developed a framework and sought an external review on its performance effectiveness. The framework is being modified to include the measures used to assess the pilot programs run in 2014–15.

Research

In 2014 the Commission commissioned research to identify options to improve its public value and review its performance indicator framework.

Additional timeliness benchmarks

The Commission's pilots utilised different ways to manage applications for general protections disputes, enterprise agreement approval and in seeking permission to appeal. These programs allowed the Commission to examine its practices and set new benchmarks for performance reporting. For this reason, this initiative was extended with the view to set new timeliness benchmarks by mid 2016.

In developing the timeliness benchmarks, the Commission is undertaking detailed mapping of the different pathways which lead applicants and respondents to an unfair dismissal hearing (including, for instance, whether a jurisdictional hearing was held). This has helped to highlight areas for improvement with the case management processes. In the next reporting period the Commission will trial and measure a number of changes to its case management processes with the aim of using the results to develop benchmarks for this initiative.

Productivity and engaging with industry

Mock hearings

Having already held mock hearings in the first half of 2014 in Sydney and Canberra, the Commission held further mock hearings in Brisbane, Perth, Hobart, Adelaide and Melbourne during the reporting period. The hearings form part of the Workplace Relations Education Series and provide observers with an insight into the processes and procedures of unfair dismissal and anti-bullying hearings in an educative setting. Several of the mock hearings have been recorded and published on the Commission's website and YouTube channel to ensure their ongoing accessibility.

Communications strategy

In mid-2014 the Commission consulted with stakeholders to assist it in developing a broad-ranging communications strategy. The aim of the strategy is to improve the public's understanding of the Commission's services and role within the community. It contains a variety of short, medium and long-term strategic communication initiatives.

The Commission used an external contractor, The Reputation Group, to undertake stakeholder research to develop the strategy. The Commission is currently reviewing the strategy and developing an implementation plan, which will begin in 2015–16.

Establishment of new user groups

In collaboration with a range of government, non-government and practitioner organisations the Commission is working as part of a steering group for a migrant workers campaign, looking at ways to better assist and educate migrant workers about their workplace rights. The Commission is also working with the Footscray Community Legal Centre to support its employment law-focused program.

Better services to small business

Given the change in the nature of its work, with a shift from collective to individual disputes, an increasing number of small businesses are coming into contact with the Commission. Small business representatives have told the Commission that they require simple, plain English materials to assist them to engage with the tribunal. The Commission will continue to consult with small business representatives to explore ways to improve its services to meet their needs. Some of the initiatives that it is undertaking or considering include:

  • Agreement making guide and checklist – the Commission is developing an agreement making guide and checklist with a particular focus on assisting small business with the bargaining and agreement making process. The checklist will be written in plain language and include a summary of important dates in the agreement making process. In June 2015 the Commission tested these information materials with small businesses. At the close of the reporting period it was reviewing feedback from this market testing.
  • A research initiative to gain practical insights and a greater understanding of the attitudes of the small business community in relation to their use and perceptions of modern award documents. The Commission contracted Sweeney Research to conduct citizen co-design focus groups and in-depth interviews with 47 small business owners across Victoria and New South Wales in the context of the 4 yearly review of modern awards.
  • Consultation with other government agencies – the Commission continues to consult with other government agencies to help develop a cohesive approach to providing information services to small business, to reduce duplication and to provide clearer information.
  • Permission to appeal pilot – under this pilot a single Full Bench heard multiple applications about whether to grant permission to appeal in unfair dismissal and general protections matters. The aim is to reduce the time and cost burdens on all parties. See Permission to Appeal Pilot In Focus.
  • Unfair Dismissal Practice Note and plain English information materials – in late 2014 the Commission released an Unfair Dismissal Practice Note and a series of documents to assist unrepresented parties when preparing for unfair dismissal hearings or conferences. Each of the documents (including an outline of argument, statement of evidence and document list) is filled out like a form so that the party provides responses to questions which a Member must consider under the Fair Work Act when determining an unfair dismissal application.
  • Usability review of the Commission's website – in the first half of 2015 the Commission undertook an extensive usability review of its website. The review considered whether small businesses, along with other stakeholders, could easily find information and materials on the website.
  • Online video of a mock hearing for unrepresented parties – in late 2015 the Commission will develop an online video-based unfair dismissal mock hearing for unrepresented parties to assist them to prepare for hearings or conferences.

The Commission will continue to consult broadly with small business to ensure that it adapts and responds to their particular needs. See Working with Small Business In Focus below.

In Focus

Working with Small Business

Over the past 12 months the Fair Work Commission has been consulting with small business to seek feedback on ways to make navigating the workplace relations legal framework less difficult.

'They tend to be unfamiliar with the way the Commission operates,' Commission conciliator Terry Bourke said. 'They focus very much on what I think most people would agree is a tough gig – running a small business.'

It's about looking at all those different touch points and asking ourselves 'Is this the right information provided at the right time and in the right way?'
 
Louise Clarke, Director, Client Services.

One of the success stories for small business is the telephone conciliation model for unfair dismissal matters. This allows parties to participate in proceedings at their home or workplace, without having to come in to a Commission office.

'If someone who runs a small business has to come in to the Commission for a conciliation conference it's almost impossible to continue with their business,' Terry Bourke said. 'So this is a massive bonus for small business and many small business operators have actually said that.'

With these types of benefits in mind and because of its acceptance, ease-of-use and high resolution rate, the Commission has now extended the telephone conciliation model to general protections matters involving dismissal.

Alternative dispute resolution models, such as determinative conferences, are also being more widely used with a critical focus on streamlining processes and reducing formality to ensure matters are dealt with efficiently.

The Commission also maintains an ongoing dialogue with small business groups, and other government agencies touching this sector of the Australian economy, to ensure its processes are appropriate for these users.

The Commission's website is the first point of contact for most small businesses and their feedback is actively sought.

A small business portal can be reached with a single click from the homepage, providing easy access to information on topics relevant to small business, such as unfair dismissal.

Recently, over 180 small businesses also provided their valuable feedback as part of the Commission's usability review of its website. This review will guide future development of the website.

The Commission regularly seeks feedback from small business through the feedback 'hot-button' on its website and surveys participants in telephone conciliation conferences regarding their experiences. Overall, the feedback about conciliation conferences in particular has been overwhelmingly positive.

80 per cent of the people who respond to the survey say that overall they're satisfied or very satisfied with the whole process and how it was explained and how they were helped to navigate the system.
 
Louise Clarke, Director, Client Services.

'It really is about looking at every single one of our touch points. We're looking at our letters, our phone calls, what we say, when, how and why. These are small but incremental improvements in looking at what does it mean for a small business,' Louise Clarke said. 'And that's our way of making sure that our services are provided in ways that are informal, quick and provide fair and just outcomes.'

 

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Australian Workplace Relations Study

The AWRS First Findings report was published in late January 2015. Further reports and research papers featuring AWRS data were published throughout the year with all data available by June 2015. The Commission also held a one-day workshop and a two-day conference from 24–26 June 2015 where various presenters delivered invited and submitted papers featuring analysis of the AWRS data.

In late June 2015 the Commission released data in a range of user-driven applications which provide a public resource to those wishing to undertake their own analysis. See Australian Workplace Relations Study In Focus.

Promoting cooperative and productive workplace relations

The Commission has initiated the 'New Approaches' pilot program to respond to its new statutory function to promote cooperative and productive workplace relations and prevent disputes. As part of the program, Commission Members are available to provide specialised training on bargaining and dispute resolution at the workplace level. The Commission has seen some positive results from the pilot program and the development of the more formal program is underway. See New Approaches In Focus.

Research community

In collaboration with universities across Australia and as part of its Workplace Relations Education Series, the Commission held lectures in Brisbane, Perth, Melbourne, Hobart and Adelaide during the reporting period. A lecture had previously been given in Sydney in the first half of 2014. Lecture topics included pay equity, the role of consultation in a globalised environment, employee communication and engagement, and productivity and industrial relations policy. A number of lectures have been recorded and are available on the Commission's website. The Commission's invited paper series also continued during the reporting period, featuring papers on relevant workplace relations issues. The papers are published on the Commission's website.

Qualitative research

Productivity and innovation in enterprise agreement clauses: an overview of literature, data and case studies at the workplace level was published on the Commission's website in late 2014. The report provides an overview of literature and Australian data on workplace productivity and presents eight qualitative case studies on enterprise agreement clauses nominated by employers, employees or their representatives as productivity enhancing or innovative.

Research

The Commission has initiated research to map the location and business needs of parties to determine how it can provide services that more effectively and efficiently meet their needs. To date, the geomapping research has tested and mapped data using an existing software tool. A paper identifying and analysing service usage and traits across Australia is being developed to assist the Commission to determine the next steps for this initiative.

In Focus

Australian Workplace Relations Study

Academic and industry researchers have welcomed the release of data from an important study into the evolving Australian labour market.

The Australian Workplace Relations Study (AWRS) is the first study of its type in 20 years. At a conference in Melbourne in late June to discuss early research utilising AWRS data, researchers were enthusiastic.

This is a great addition to the available information. I expect and assume that it will be a great feed into research for years to come.
 
Dr Josh Healy, University of Melbourne.

The AWRS is a large cross-sectional survey of around 3000 employers and approximately 8000 of their employees. A key benefit of this study is that it allows employer data to be linked with employee data, which opens up many opportunities for researchers to explore a range of dynamics in the labour market. The AWRS collected data across wide areas of interest, including:

  • employment practices
  • enterprise operations
  • indicators of performance
  • wage setting and outcomes, and
  • employee experiences.

The AWRS was conducted by the Commission in response to calls from key stakeholder groups for the need for research of this kind. The Commission worked closely with a steering committee with representatives from:

  • industry – including the Australian Industry Group, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the ACTU
  • government – including the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Fair Work Ombudsman, Department of Employment and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, and
  • academia – including the Association of Industrial Relations Academics and the Australian Labour and Employment Relations Association.

The steering committee played a key role in determining the scope, content and procedures for the study including the preparation of the survey questionnaires.

There was a lot of shared ground when we got down to looking at individual questions. It was actually a fairly cooperative discussion in that all of us were after the same information really and for broadly similar objectives.
 
Julie Toth, the Australian Industry Group.

Conducting the AWRS was a complex task. A critical challenge for the research was recruiting a representative range of enterprises and employees to participate in the study. Another significant challenge was administering the surveys to participants in varying circumstances. Ultimately, surveys were administered online, by phone and by paper and pen.

In January 2015 the Commission published the AWRS First Findings Report, which provided an initial snapshot of the data collected in the study. The full data set is also now available.

In June 2015 researchers gathered in Melbourne for the AWRS Conference, where exploratory academic papers based on their use of AWRS data were presented.

'Often with data sets like this the more they get used the more they get used – it opens up ideas for other people,' Linton Duffin, from the Commission, said. 'We anticipate a significant number of academics will use the data to do work in a whole range of areas around gender pay gaps, workforce productivity and workforce engagement issues.'

Photo of Professor Sue Richardson and other panel members discussing future research priorities at the AWRS Conference in Melbourne in June 2015.

 

Image: Professor Sue Richardson and other panel members discuss future research priorities at the AWRS Conference in Melbourne in June 2015.

 

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In Focus

New Approaches

The Fair Work Commission's 'New Approaches' pilot program is assisting a range of businesses and organisations to develop new collaborative relationships with their workforces.

'The New Approach is about cooperative and productive workplaces and our role as a Commission in facilitating that objective,' Commissioner Roe said. 'It's about trying to get a focus on those common interests and to try to get a better way of dealing with the problems that arise.'

Deputy President Booth describes the Commission's role as that of a guide and mentor, rather than trying to solve a problem. 'So facilitating the parties doing it themselves,' she said, 'and doing it in a way that develops the capacity of the parties to move forward without continual reference back to the Commission.'

At Orora Fibre Packaging, adopting 'New Approaches' has transformed the business. The business and workforce now collaborate to develop and implement ideas to improve productivity and efficiency. In the process it has had a significant impact on the business' financial position. A workplace that previously experienced a very high level of industrial disputation has not had any matters before the Commission for over two years. The Commission has however been active on the sidelines and in the background with both the union and the company.

The work has really been done on a consultative basis around supporting the AMWU and Orora in how do we make sure that we both stay committed to this journey.
 
Brian Lowe, Orora.

'New Approaches' is also at work at House with No Steps, a leading not-for-profit, providing services and support to people with disabilities. The organisation employs nearly 2500 people to deliver a wide range of services in Queensland, New South Wales and the ACT.

House with No Steps and the Australian Services Union were drawn to the interest-based approach after a bitter industrial dispute over redundancies in the organisation's Sydney region. While the dispute settled in the Commission, neither of the parties were really satisfied with the outcome.

'I approached the parties and said would you like to talk about relating to one another in a different way? Are you interested in having a look at that?' Deputy President Booth said.

The organisation and union both agreed to explore a new style of engagement with the Commission's help, through the 'New Approaches' program.

'Our interests and our staff's interests and the union's interests actually align very substantially,' Andrew Richardson, from House with No Steps, said. 'There will always be some differences but we are 90 per cent aligned, not 90 per cent divergent.'

The discussions began between senior management and senior union officials. The workshops were facilitated by the Commission and quickly spread throughout the organisation to involve line managers and employees at individual workplaces.

'It's those discussions that are the most important in ensuring we have engagement at a local level,' Natalie Lang, from the Australian Services Union, said.

'New Approaches' is a far more informal, and involved, style of engaging with the Fair Work Commission.

'Not all parties will be suitable,' Vice President Catanzariti, who oversees the program for the Commission, said. 'It will require a change of thinking by both the employer and the employee unions involved and then they'll have to be prepared to work in a different way with us.'

'We would like to become involved – where the parties want us to – with their approach to dispute resolution in the workplace, in the way they relate to one another, in enterprise bargaining and the way that they plan for bargaining,' Deputy President Booth said.

The essence of 'New Approaches' is that participation in the program must be voluntary with a willing commitment from all parties. The process can, at times, be challenging. Trust between parties and belief that the process will assist in resolving these matters is critical.

The Commission approaches parties it believes might be suitable for 'New Approaches', and employers and employees are free to approach the Commission to discuss the program. Initial contact can be made through a Member of the Commission.

Photo of participants at the enterprise bargaining and dispute prevention and resolution workshops conducted in partnership with the Industrial Relations Society of New South Wales as part of the â  New Approaches' pilot program.

Image: Participants at the enterprise bargaining and dispute prevention and resolution workshops conducted in partnership with the Industrial Relations Society of New South Wales as part of the 'New Approaches' pilot program.

 

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Case Study

Orora

After two years in action, a new collaborative relationship between Orora Fibre Packaging and its workforce has helped to place the business on a firm footing for the future.

The Fair Work Commission has played an important role in helping to build that relationship through its 'New Approaches' pilot program.

Just two years ago Orora Fibre Packaging's business performance was well below expectations.

Production costs were too high and the company was losing money. It faced a compelling case to start doing things differently in the business. But it was hard for change to be implemented, as the company's relationship with its employees had deteriorated. On all sides it had become combative and untrusting.

It was the most adversarial we had out of all our sites and all our membership. The two years prior we would have had a least 20 hearings before the Fair Work Commission.
 
Lorraine Cassin, the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union.

Brian Lowe, from Orora, agrees the relationship was poor. 'It was quite a confrontational type of environment and interaction, rather than one that looked at †We've got issues ahead of us – how do we deal with them?†' he said.

Orora sought the assistance of the Commission to help it build a new, collaborative relationship where the workforce could actively contribute to the success of the business.

Through its 'New Approaches' program the Commission assists businesses to develop a different approach to relating to, and dealing with, its employees.

'The New Approach is about cooperative and productive workplaces and our role as a Commission in facilitating that objective,' Commissioner Roe said. 'It's about trying to get a focus on those common interests and to try to get a better way of dealing with the problems that arise.'

The Commission convened informal discussions between the company and union, which grew into a series of facilitated frank discussions about the state of the business and the changes which might be needed to restore its competitiveness.

There was quite a lot of stuff that we agreed on. Which was a shock to everybody. Most of the quick fixes could be agreed on very, very quickly.
 
Lorraine Cassin, AMWU.

A key issue for the new relationship was for management and workers to each put aside past biases and issues. Developing and maintaining trust was a critical part of building a productive relationship. The relationship has been maintained even with a change of management, with Brian Lowe committed to continuing the 'New Approach' engagement. 'In the first 12 months we made some significant improvement to the point where we are comfortable today that we are over the threshold,' Brian Lowe said.

Commissioner Roe said: 'I'm absolutely convinced that a lot of Australian manufacturing jobs and a successful business have been saved and improved as a result of the process.'

There have been no disputes before the Commission in the past two years. The Members of the Commission remain involved with the parties in an advisory role, to keep them focused on mutually beneficial outcomes and avoid problems escalating to disputes.

'They're working together in the centre,' Deputy President Booth said. 'The Commission is more on the outside, providing them with an opportunity to bounce things off when they get tricky.'

Brian Lowe acknowledges the important role the new relationship with Orora's workforce has played in the turnaround of the business. 'We would not be where we are today if it wasn't for the different approach we've taken and also the role that the Fair Work Commission has played,' he said.

Photo of a worker at Orora's fibre packaging plant in Melbourne.

Image: Orora Fibre Packaging has entered a new era of workplace relations with the support of the Commission's 'New Approaches' pilot program.

 

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