Australia’s first national workplace relations tribunal, the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, was established more than a century ago in 1904.
Since then, the tribunal has undergone many changes in jurisdiction, name, function and structure in line with substantial legislative, social and economic changes. The tribunal has endured by successfully adapting to changes in its legislative environment and through being an independent and expert dispute resolution service.
In recent years the Fair Work Commission has seen a significant shift in the composition of its work. The nature of the Commission’s work has changed – from collective to individual dispute resolution. This shift towards individual dispute resolution arises from legislative change and other workplace changes.
The changing nature of the Commission’s work has had implications for its stakeholders. Parties appearing before the Commission are no longer predominantly experienced workplace relations participants, such as unions, employers and employer organisations, who are familiar with the legislative landscape and the Commission’s processes. The majority of parties are now self-represented, first time participants who are unfamiliar with the Commission’s processes. The Commission is continuing to improve the information it provides about the legislation that it administers and its procedures in order to be more accessible to people with limited knowledge of workplace relations.
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted all parts of Australian society, including the economy. Since March 2020, the Commission has experienced an increase in applications lodged, especially unfair dismissals. Above trend lodgements are likely to continue in 2020–21 and beyond as the economy recovers. The Commission aims to use all available resources to deal with the increased demand on our services.
The Commission operates within the broader workplace relations framework and works collaboratively with other Commonwealth agencies that also have a role to play, such as the Fair Work Ombudsman and the Registered Organisations Commission.
Through a network of partner organisations, the Commission facilitates the Workplace Advice Service which provides free legal assistance for dismissal, general protections and workplace bullying matters. Further details and a full list of partner organisations is available on the Commission’s website.
The Commission engages with several user groups to ensure that its services are aligned with the evolving needs of the Australian community.