The Commission is Australia's national workplace relations tribunal. The Commission was established by the Fair Work Act 2009 (the Fair Work Act) and is responsible for administering provisions of the Fair Work Act.
These powers and functions include:
- resolving unfair dismissal claims
- dealing with anti-bullying claims
- dealing with general protections and unlawful termination claims
- setting the national minimum wage and minimum wages in modern awards
- making, reviewing and varying modern awards
- assisting the bargaining process for enterprise agreements
- approving, varying and terminating enterprise agreements
- making orders to stop or suspend industrial action
- dealing with disputes brought to the Commission under the dispute resolution procedures of modern awards and enterprise agreements
- determining applications for right of entry permits
- promoting cooperative and productive workplace relations and preventing disputes
The Commission and its General Manager also have responsibilities in relation to the registration, recognition and accountability of unions and employer organisations under the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 (Registered Organisations Act).
The Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal was an independent national tribunal with functions relating to the road transport industry and was supported by staff of the Commission. On 19 April 2016, the Road Safety Remuneration Repeal Act 2016 received royal assent. As a result, on 21 April 2016 the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal ceased to operate. The Commission's Annual Report includes performance reporting of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal which can be found at Appendix F.
The Commission consists of a President, two Vice Presidents, Deputy Presidents, Commissioners and Expert Panel Members, supported by the General Manager and administrative staff.
Figure 1: Organisational structure
The Commission is headed by the President, the Honourable Justice Iain Ross AO, who is also a Judge of the Federal Court of Australia. Commission Members perform quasi-judicial functions under the Fair Work Act, including conducting public hearings and private conferences for both individual and collective matters. They also perform certain functions under the Registered Organisations Act, including determining applications for registration and cancellation of registration and for alterations to eligibility rules of employee and employer organisations.
Commission Members are independent statutory office holders appointed by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the Australian Government of the day. They are appointed until the age of 65 on a full-time basis, although they may perform duties on a part-time basis with the President's approval. Members of state industrial tribunals may also hold a dual appointment to the Commission. Expert Panel Members are appointed on a part-time basis for a specified period of not more than five years.
Commission Members come from a diverse range of backgrounds including the law, unions and employer associations, human resources and management and the public service. Expert Panel Members must have knowledge or experience in one or more fields specific to their panel.
Members often share their expertise and engage with the community by participating in a range of presentations, speeches and events in Australia and internationally. For a list of Member activities see Appendix C.
Appointments & departures
During 2015–16 the following Members were appointed to the Commission (in order of appointment): Commissioner T Saunders, Commissioner T Cirkovic, Commissioner C Platt, Deputy President M Binet, Deputy President WR Clancy, Commissioner K Harper-Greenwell, Commissioner J Hunt and Deputy President LE Dean. Commissioner GE Bull was appointed as a Deputy President.
During 2015–16 the following Members retired or resigned from the Commission: Vice President M Lawler, Justice AJ Boulton AO, Senior Deputy President AM Harrison, Deputy President GR Smith AM, Deputy President TJ Abey (dual appointee), Commissioner JCW Lewin, Commissioner WD Blair, Commissioner HM Cargill, Commissioner MG Roberts and Commissioner JD Stanton (dual appointee).
The panel system
The Commission allocates some of its work through a panel system overseen by the President. The system seeks to ensure that matters are dealt with efficiently by Members with experience and expertise in the area.
On 16 November 2015 the Commission announced changes to its panels, including the merger of the Transport and logistics panel with the Mining, agriculture and electric power panel to form the new Services and mining panel, with Senior Deputy President Hamberger as Panel head.
In addition, Vice President Watson became head of the Major resources/infrastructure projects panel, and Health and related industries was moved from the Media, ports, oils and gas panel to the Government services panel, with Vice President Catanzariti as Panel head.
The Commission also moved to a model of regional industry allocation in South Australia and Western Australia. All industry panel matters in these states are allocated to local Members by Senior Deputy President O'Callaghan.
The Commission's current panels are:
- Major resource/infrastructure projects panel
- Industry panels
- Manufacturing and building panel
- Media, ports, oil and gas panel
- Services and mining panel
- Government services panel
- Organisations panel
- Termination of employment panel
- Anti-bullying panel
There are also panels for the annual wage review and default superannuation funds.
Looking ahead, the panel arrangements will continue to be reviewed in light of the ongoing reduction in collective matters in many industries.
For more information on the panel system and Panel heads, see Appendix A and Appendix B.
The Commission's General Manager is Bernadette O'Neill. Commission staff members are employed under the Public Service Act (1999) (Public Service Act). Their role is to support and facilitate the Commission's work.
Staff are organised into four branches, with the head of each branch, together with the General Manager, forming the Executive team:
- Client Services is headed by Louise Clarke. It handles the majority of the Commission's public enquiries, both by telephone and at offices in each state and territory. Staff members receive and process applications, prepare files, coordinate hearing and conference rooms, maintain the case management system, arrange and conduct conciliations and mediations, and publish documents including decisions and orders.
- Corporate Services is headed by Ailsa Carruthers. It is responsible for corporate governance and reporting, legal services, financial management and resources, payroll, media and communications, human resources and information technology.
- Regulatory Compliance is headed by Chris Enright. It assists in administering the functions of the Registered Organisations Act. Staff members oversee compliance by federally registered employee and employer organisations with legislative obligations, conduct inquiries and investigations into the compliance of organisations and individuals, and process applications for right of entry permits by officials of federally registered employee organisations.
- Tribunal Services is headed by Murray Furlong. It provides research, project management and administrative support to Commission Members. Staff members coordinate the day-to-day support in Members' Chambers, undertake specialist workplace relations and economic research and assist with managing large statutory reviews, such as of modern awards and the minimum wage. In addition, they perform analysis of draft enterprise agreements, coordinate arbitration hearings for unfair dismissal matters, provide research for individual Members, maintain a workplace relations library and oversee national and international engagement activities.
Australia has had a national workplace relations tribunal for more than a century and it is one of the country's oldest institutions. Over time the tribunal has undergone many changes in jurisdiction, name, functions and structure. Throughout its history, it has made many decisions that have affected the lives of working Australians and their employers. The Commission recognises the importance of capturing and preserving its history for display and research.
Sir Richard Kirby Archives
The Commission established the Sir Richard Kirby Archives in 2002 as a means of preserving its history. Named in honour of the longest serving president of the Commission, the archives contain a range of historical material including documents, photographs, and a collection of oral interviews with past Members and senior staff of the Commission.
On 1 March 2016, the Hon. Senator Michaelia Cash, Minister for Employment, Minister for Women, and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, launched the Sir Richard Kirby Archives' latest exhibition, 'The History of the Australian Minimum Wage,' via video. The exhibition explores the Great Strikes of the 19th century, which led to the introduction of the first minimum wage, and the major milestones in the evolution of the minimum wage through to the modern era. The launch was held in conjunction with the Industrial Relations Society of Victoria at a 'Meet the Commission' function. Along with the Minister, Justice Ross and Deputy President Hamilton spoke at the event.
Visitors can view the exhibition at Level 8, 11 Exhibition Street, Melbourne. For more information visit fwc.gov.au/sir-richard-kirby-archives.
Clients & stakeholders
The Commission's work affects most of Australia's employees and employers and, as a consequence, the Commission has a diverse group of clients and stakeholders. In broad terms, the Commission has jurisdiction over a national system that covers all private sector employers and employees in all States and Territories except Western Australia (where private sector coverage is limited to constitutional corporations); the Commonwealth public sector; all employers and employees in the Territories and in Victoria (with limited exceptions in relation to some State public sector employees); and some public sector and local government employment in other States. The Commission's anti-bullying jurisdiction extends to a broader range of workers (in addition to employees) when at work in constitutionally covered businesses.
The Commission, like other Australian courts and tribunals, must continue to deliver quality services, effectively and efficiently, within the resources allocated to it. In order for the Commission to meet the changing needs of the Australian community, it commenced the first phase of its change program, Future Directions in 2012, and the second phase Future Directions–Continuing the Change Program in 2014. Developed in consultation with Members, staff and key stakeholders, the programs sought to improve the Commission's public value through the delivery of a large number of initiatives focused on the following four themes:
- promoting fairness and improving access
- efficiency and innovation
- increasing accountability
- productivity and engaging with industry
Almost four years following its launch, Future Directions has substantially delivered over 50 initiatives that have impacted on the vast majority of activities of the Commission – both in relation to the experiences of parties directly involved in applications, and the broader Australian community that relies on the national workplace relations system every day.
During 2015–16, Future Directions resulted in the bedding down of new processes for several major matter types, including enterprise agreements, general protections, appeals and the New Approaches program.
In addition, parties can now draw on a much wider range of support and information materials, such as new publicly-available benchbooks and eligibility quizzes for major matter types, a broader pro bono lawyer program covering unfair dismissal and general protection applications, digitised forms, an improved search function on the website, online virtual tours and case studies, and improved access to audio recordings of proceedings.
As part of the Future Directions program, the Commission introduced performance benchmarks for the timeliness of issuing reserved decisions and agreement approvals. An additional benchmark was introduced for the issuing of reserved decisions in appeal matters. The Commission's performance against these benchmarks continues to be published on the website. The benchmarks are intended to be challenging, and to that extent they are aspirational. The Commission expects that there will be individual instances where it does not meet its own high standards, for a variety of reasons. However, the setting of performance benchmarks and then publicly reporting the Commission's performance are important accountability measures.
Throughout 2015–16, Future Directions has also seen the Commission broaden its proactive engagement with the community, including undertaking research activities aimed at improving the services provided to small business employers.
For more information about Future Directions see the Annual Performance Statements. A separate report card on the final stage of the Future Directions program will be published on the Commission's website.
Keep reading the annual report