Annual Report 2016-17

President's introduction

Justice Ross AO, President of the Fair Work Commission, head shotI am pleased to introduce the Fair Work Commission's annual report for 2016–17.

It was another productive year for the Commission, in terms of our core business—dealing with applications—and our major projects, such as the 4 yearly review of modern awards. Community engagement remained a focus during the year.

Access to justice

Future Directions—a change program designed to improve the Commission's efficiency, transparency and provision of access to justice—commenced in 2012 and was completed in 2017. We can look back upon the program's achievements with a sense of pride and accomplishment.

While many of the initiatives arising from Future Directions were designed as one-off improvements, others provided the foundations for ongoing projects. In 2016–17, a great deal of work was done to develop the two free legal services established under Future Directions: the workplace advice clinics and the Pro Bono Program services.

In some areas of the Commission's responsibilities—for example, unfair dismissals—many parties are self-represented individuals with limited knowledge of the legislative framework and the Commission's rules and procedures. By providing these individuals with targeted assistance, we can improve access to, and experience of, the Commission's services.

Workplace advice clinics assist low-income unrepresented individuals who have lodged applications with the Commission or are seeking advice about their workplace rights. Clinics have been established in partnership with community legal services in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney, and we are looking to expand the network across Australia.

The Pro Bono Program invites eligible parties in unfair dismissal jurisdictional objection hearings to obtain free legal advice from participating law firms. The program, which currently operates in regional and metropolitan Victoria, was judged successful by participants and external evaluators in 2016–17. We are now considering extending the program to a wider range of matters and locations.

I take this opportunity to thank our partners in these projects—without their support and time, we could not deliver this most important assistance to the community.

4 yearly review

Modern awards were introduced in 2010 to provide a minimum safety net of terms and conditions for employees. The Commission is required to review all modern awards every four years. We began the first 4 yearly review in 2014 and expect to complete it by the middle of 2018.

The 4 yearly review is a large and significant body of work for both the Commission and the parties involved. In 2016–17, the Commission issued 38 decisions and 55 statements and posted 4,435 documents on our website in relation to the review.

The use of plain language can improve the effectiveness and usability of awards. During 2016–17, we prepared plain language drafts of award-specific clauses for several awards, selected because of the high levels of award reliance in the industries or occupations they cover, particularly among small businesses. The Commission will also apply plain language drafting principles to new provisions developed as part of the review and to a number of standard clauses found in all awards.

Applications to vary penalty rates in a range of hospitality and retail awards were among some of the specific issues considered by the review in 2016–17. A Full Bench handed down decisions concerning penalty rates in February and June 2017. The Commission also continued to hear applications to vary the entitlements of casual and part time employees. All materials related to the proceedings were published on the Commission's website to ensure access for all interested parties.


Members and senior staff represent the Commission and engage with the community, business, unions and employer associations through a range of events. In 2016–17, a particular highlight was the re-enactment of the 1907 Harvester case—a case that helped to establish Australia's minimum wage system—as part of Law Week Victoria.

In June 2017, the Commission hosted a negotiation masterclass in Melbourne. This masterclass, co-facilitated by leading mediation specialists from the Harvard Negotiation Institute and Harvard Law School, saw leaders from unions, employer associations and industry receive advanced training in interest-based approaches to negotiation and bargaining.

Looking ahead

In 2017–18, we will launch a pilot program to test the potential of listing certain matters outside normal business hours, as part of our efforts to improve access to justice. Between 1 July and 31 December 2017, the Commission will offer parties to unresolved unfair dismissal matters, in Melbourne, the opportunity to have their matters listed for consideration by the Commission on Thursday evenings or Saturdays. We will evaluate the pilot at its conclusion, taking into account feedback from participants and data on the Commission's performance against established timeliness benchmarks.

Thank you

Our many achievements over the past year were the result of the hard work and commitment of all Members and Commission staff. I thank them for their outstanding work.

Several longstanding Members of the Commission departed in 2016–17. I would like to acknowledge and thank them for their service.

I also wish to thank the Commission's stakeholders: workers, employers, registered organisations, small businesses, industry bodies and representatives. Their feedback and input play a vital role in guiding the Commission in continually improving its services to the community.

Signature: Justice Iain Ross AO (President)

Justice Iain Ross AO

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