Annual Report 2016-17

Delivery of Commission services


In 2016–17, a total of 33,071 applications were lodged with the Commission (compared to a total of 34,215 in 2015–16).

The Commission's case load in 2016–17 was similar to previous years, decreasing by 3 per cent from 2015–16. Unfair dismissal applications continued to be the most common application, making up approximately 43 per cent of total applications filed. In line with the overall trend, the number of unfair dismissal applications decreased by 4 per cent from the previous year. The number of industrial action applications (including protected action ballot orders) showed a significant decrease of 37 per cent compared with the previous year, although the trend over the longer term (while still downward) is less marked.

Lodgments of other application types were consistent with numbers in previous years, with increases in the number of enterprise agreements approved and in general protections (involving dismissal) applications.

Table 5 shows the volume of work according to the type of matter lodged from 2013–14 to 2016–17. Details of numbers of applications lodged in 2016–17 are provided in Appendix D, Table D8.

Table 5: Volume of work, by matter type
Matter type 2016–17 2015–16 2014–15 2013–14
Unfair dismissal 14,135 14,694 14,624 14,796
Agreement approvals 5,698 5,529 5,922 6,754
Agreements—other1 1,180 1,335 1,469 3,448
General protections involving dismissal2 3,729 3,270 3,382 2,879
General protections—other3 937 940 993 909
Orders to stop bullying 722 734 694 343
Dispute resolution4 2,106 2,194 2,331 2,657
Industrial action5 797 1,272 957 989
Bargaining6 399 408 479 423
Appeals 237 283 336 214
Registered organisations 1,243 1,472 1,120 1,381
Other matters 1,888 2,084 1,845 2,273
Total 33,071 34,215 34,152 37,066

1 Applications to vary and terminate enterprise agreements and transitional individual agreements.

2 Applications made under s.365 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (FWA).

3 Applications made under ss.372 and 773 of the FWA.

4 Applications made under ss.120, 526, 533, 699 and 739 of the FWA.

5 Applications made under ss.266, 418, 419, 423, 424, 425, 426, 437, 447, 448, 459 and 472 of the FWA.

6 Applications made under ss.229, 236, 238, 240, 242 and 248 of the FWA.

Hearings and conferences

In 2016–17, Commission Members held 15,804 hearings and conferences around Australia, a reduction of 5 per cent from the previous year.

Hearings and conferences are held in each capital city and regional locations. They are held in person, by telephone or by video conference. Not all matters involve a hearing or conference—some are decided by a Member on the papers in chambers.

Commission Members hold hearings and conferences by telephone or video conference wherever suitable, to reduce parties' travel time and costs and to ensure efficient use of Commission resources. In 2016–17, over 27 per cent (4,297) of all hearings and conferences conducted by Members were held by telephone or video conference. Some 35 per cent (5,543) of matters, predominantly applications for approval of enterprise agreements, were decided by a Member on the papers, without the need for a hearing or conference.

In addition, experienced staff conducted 13,172 conciliation conferences during 2016–17. Conciliators hold conferences in relation to applications concerning unfair dismissal, general protections involving dismissal and anti-bullying. Most conciliations are conducted by telephone. See Appendix D, Table D6 for detailed information on hearings and conferences.

Information and assistance

The Commission provides assistance in person at our state and territory offices, through our telephone helpline and by email. The Commission caters for the different needs of parties by making arrangements for interpreters, hearing loops and other special needs, as requested.

Decisions and orders are published on the Commission's website. Parties have access, free of charge through our website, to an audio file of hearings held in public. Additionally, the Commission live streams major decisions, such as the annual wage review, on its website.


The Commission launched a new website on 8 July 2016, following extensive collaboration with, and feedback from, regular practitioners and external parties. The website has a number of links to assist the public, businesses and practitioners to locate information and resources quickly and easily.

We have improved the search functionality of our new website to make it easier to find documents, decisions, orders and agreements. In 2016–17, significant improvements to resources on the website included:

  • benchbooks for the most common types of application
  • guides, fact sheets and tools such as the agreements date calculator and eligibility quizzes
  • videos, including mock hearings and anti-bullying videos.

In 2016–17, the website had 4.82 million visitors, 2 per cent more than in 2015–16. We regularly review and update our benchbooks, as a valuable resource to parties and the community more broadly. The Unfair Dismissal Benchbook was viewed 44,376 times; the General Protections Benchbook, 29,734 times; the Enterprise Agreement Benchbook, 15,757 times; the Anti-Bullying Benchbook, 15,263 times; and the new Industrial Action Benchbook released in March 2017, 732 times.

Our website provides several online quizzes to help potential applicants understand whether they are eligible to apply to the Commission for a remedy. In 2016–17, the unfair dismissal eligibility quiz was accessed 84,320 times; the anti-bullying eligibility quiz, 41,698 times; and the general protections eligibility quiz, 30,228 times.

Telephone enquiries

The Commission provides a national helpline service between 9 am and 5 pm (local time). The helpline is often the first point of contact for people with questions about the role and functions of the Commission and for people who are considering making an application.

The number of calls received on the helpline decreased by 9 per cent, from 203,796 in 2015–16 to 184,965 in 2016–17. An upgraded telephone system, installed in March 2017, provided a more reliable system with improved reporting capabilities and quality assurance. Due to the changeover a slight margin of statistical error in the 2016–17 reporting period is likely.

The decline in helpline calls in 2016–17 can be attributed, at least in part, to improved redirection of calls through interactive voice responses, which allowed 40 per cent of callers to be directed to another agency directly. Improvements in the accessibility of information on the Commission's website may also have contributed to the decline in calls.

In 2016–17, the average wait time for a call to the Commission was 3 minutes and 29 seconds, consistent with the time in 2015–16.

Feedback surveys

At the conclusion of a staff conciliation conference in unfair dismissal and general protections (involving dismissal) claims, all parties and their representatives are invited to participate in an online survey. The survey asks participants to rate their experience of service from staff both before and during conciliation.

In 2016–17, the Commission set and published performance targets in relation to satisfaction with processes and information, and whether the conciliator was even-handed. The Commission met or exceeded each of its satisfaction targets—see Results against performance criteria section for details.

Timeliness benchmarks

Our portfolio budget statements set out performance standards for timeliness of staff conciliation conferences in unfair dismissal applications, approval of enterprise agreements, and completion of the annual wage review. Further information can be found in the annual performance statements.

In addition, since 2012 the Commission has introduced performance benchmarks concerning delivery of reserved decisions by a single Member dealing with applications for the approval of enterprise agreements, the hearing of appeals, and handing down reserved decisions in appeal matters.

The benchmarks are intended to be challenging, and to that extent they are aspirational. But the setting of performance benchmarks and the public reporting of the Tribunal's performance against those benchmarks are important accountability measures.

The following graphics compare the Commission's performance against benchmarks in 2016–17 with its performance before the introduction of the benchmarks. While in most instances the Tribunal's performance has improved since the benchmarks were introduced in 2012, there remains room for further improvement. Improved timeliness performance will be a significant focus in the year ahead.

Figure 2: Timeliness benchmarks—reserved decisions

Figure 2 is a visual representation of data relating to the Reserved Decisions timeliness benchmark. It shows that in 2016-17, 80.6 per cent of reserved decisions were completed within 8 weeks and 90.5 per cent were completed within 12 weeks. It also shows the pre-benchmark performance rates which are 72.2 per cent and 86.0 per cent.

Figure 3: Timeliness benchmarks—agreements

Figure 3 is a visual representation of data relating to the agreements timeliness benchmark. It shows that in 2016-17, 36.5 per cent of agreements were finalised within 3 weeks, 81.4 per cent were finalised within 8 weeks and 94.8 per cent were finalised within 12 weeks. It also shows the pre-benchmark performance rates which are 58.0 per cent, 81.8 per cent and 90.2 per cent, respectively

Figure 4: Timeliness benchmarks—listing of appeals

Figure 4 is a visual representation of data relating to the listing of appeals timeliness benchmark. It shows that in 2016-17, 96.9 per cent of appeals were listed within 8 weeks and 100.0 per cent were listed within 12 weeks. It also shows the pre-benchmark performance rates which are 90.8 per cent and 97.0 per cent, respectively.

Figure 5: Timeliness benchmarks—appeals reserved decisions

Figure 5 is a visual representation of data relating to the appeals reserved decisions timeliness benchmark. It shows that in 2016-17, 82.6 per cent of appeal reserved decisions were decided within 8 weeks and 94.2 per cent were decided within 12 weeks. It also shows the pre-benchmark performance rates which are 77.8 per cent and 90.9 per cent, respectively.

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