Welcome to the first online annual report by the Fair Work Commission. This is an initiative which we hope will make the information we provide more accessible to the community.
This past year has been a very busy one for the Commission. We’ve seen the introduction of a new anti-bullying jurisdiction; the conferral of additional functions on the Tribunal, as well as the continuation of our change program, Future Directions.
The new anti-bullying jurisdiction commenced on the first of January this year. But well before the new jurisdiction came in, the Commission was hard at work with its key stakeholders to develop an appropriate case management model to ensure that the new jurisdiction worked effectively.
We also published a range of information materials on our website about the new jurisdiction including a benchbook to assist the parties. I am pleased to say that most of the cases that we’ve dealt with have been successfully resolved by conciliation facilitated by the Commission. We will continue to review and improve our processes in this important new jurisdiction.
Among other changes the Fair Work Amendment Act provided the Commission with an important new function—to promote cooperative and productive workplaces and to prevent disputes.
We’re developing a comprehensive strategy to enable us to effectively implement this new function. At its heart it’s about assisting the parties at a workplace level to create a more productive workplace and one that’s more adaptive to change. It’s about dispute prevention, rather than settlement. It’s about responding to the wishes of parties when they seek the Commission’s involvement and about facilitating a better outcome for all parties.
There’s a case study in this year’s annual report about Sydney Water that provides you with an example of our work in this important and growing area.
Our future directions
The past 15 years has seen a significant change in the type of matters that come to the Tribunal and also in the nature of the parties that appear before us.
Increasingly, we are dealing with individual grievances and with self-represented parties. 15 years ago two thirds of our work was collective dispute resolution, where the parties were experienced players—they understood the Act and the Commission’s processes.
Increasingly we’re dealing with self-represented parties who have limited experience with the Tribunal. We have an obligation to explain how the Act works and how our processes work to self-represented parties.
Over the past 12 months we have developed and implemented a comprehensive change program called Future Directions to better meet the needs of the parties who now appear before us.
The focus of Future Directions is on delivering public value in four key areas:
- Promoting fairness and improving access
- Encouraging efficiency and innovation
- Increasingly accountability
- Improved productivity and engaging with industry.
By December 2013 we had successfully implemented all 25 initiatives in the initial phase of the Future Directions change program. These initiatives included a range of new benchbooks dealing with unfair dismissals, general protections, and the new anti-bullying jurisdictions.
These benchbooks provide in simple language a summary of the key principles from the most important decisions in each of these jurisdictions. They provide important information to assist, particularly, self-represented parties, in understanding the cases in which they are going to be appearing in.
We have also launched a new website with an easier navigation structure for particular users including employees, employers, organisations and small business. We will continue to develop and improve the website in response to feedback we receive from the users.
For unrepresented parties and first time users, coming to the Commission can be a daunting experience. With that in mind, in 2013 we launched a virtual tour of the Commission. This is intended to give parties—particularly to unfair dismissal matters—an insight into how their matter would be heard and determined by the Commission.
By giving parties this sort of information we hope that it will make our processes more accessible and also increase their understanding of the Commission’s processes. We intend to extend this initiative to other jurisdictions such as general protections and anti-bullying over the course of the next two years.
Future Directions is an ongoing change program. In May this year we launched a further 30 initiatives that we intend to implement over the course of the next two years. Details of those initiatives can be found in our annual report. They are all directed at making the Commission a more efficient, fair, accessible and accountable national institution.
In last year’s annual report we announced that we had introduced two important timeliness benchmarks—one dealing with reserved decisions and the other dealing with the approval of agreements. I’m pleased to report that we are continuing to make improvements in these areas and have consistently shown improvement across a range of these benchmarks. Not all of the timeliness benchmarks are meeting their target. We will continue to work hard in this area to improve our performance.
We have also introduced new timeliness benchmarks particularly in relation to dealing with appeals both in terms of the time taken to get an appeal heard and the time taken to deliver a decision in relation to an appeal. The introduction of these benchmarks and an increased focus on the efficiency of the appeal process has improved our performance in this area.
All of these initiatives provide greater certainty for parties. They can lodge an application with confidence that it will be dealt with in a timely way and we will continue to focus on this important area of our work.
The year ahead
As public institutions, courts and tribunals depend on the support of the community for their legitimacy. Accountability and transparency are vital to ensure that support.
We will continue to review our processes and the services we deliver to ensure that we are meeting the needs of the community. We will also continue to report on our outcomes and on our timeliness to ensure that we are accountable to the community that we serve.
The past year has also seen some changes in the composition of the membership of the Commission. We’ve seen the retirement of Commissioner Macdonald and the resignations of Deputy President Parsons and Expert Panel Member Allen. We’ve also seen the appointment of Deputy President Kovacic. I thank those that have left the Tribunal for their work over many years and I welcome Deputy President Kovacic to the Commission.
I’d also like to thank our key stakeholders for their contribution to the work of the Commission, particularly in the implementation of the Future Directions initiatives.
And finally, I’d like to thank all of our Members and staff for their hard work, commitment and dedication and for helping make a great institution better.