The general protections provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009 (the Act) require the Commission to conduct conferences to assist parties to resolve their dispute in a conciliation process. If the Commission is satisfied that all reasonable attempts to resolve the dispute have been, or are likely to be, unsuccessful, then it must issue a certificate to that effect and an application can then be made to a Federal Court (or if the parties agree, the Commission) for the determination of the dispute.
The general protections pilot commenced on 1 September 2014 and involved a small team of specially-trained staff conciliators conducting conferences for general protections applications lodged in Western Australia, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory. The program was overseen by Deputy President Kovacic. Nominated staff acted under the President’s delegated authority. Where a matter could not be resolved in conciliation it was referred to Deputy President Kovacic to finalise, including by issuing a certificate stating that all reasonable attempts to resolve the dispute had been, or are likely to be, unsuccessful.
In the period from 1 September 2014 to 31 March 2015, staff conciliators conducted 444 conferences. These conferences were conducted by telephone, following the successful model for administrative conciliation in unfair dismissal matters. A survey was undertaken during the pilot period to measure parties’ satisfaction with their interactions with the Commission in conferences conducted by both Members and staff conciliators.
A centralised case management team was established to coordinate the Commission’s resources in managing and scheduling matters up to the time of the conference. The results of the pilot showed a clear improvement in the timeliness of scheduling conferences as well as continued improvement in the satisfactions levels of parties involved in the conferences.
A decision was made in July 2015 to extend the pilot and phase in an approach where all general protections matters involving dismissal are conducted by staff conciliators in the first instance.