Annual Report 2016-17

Corporate governance

The General Manager is the statutory head of Australian Public Service (APS) staff employed by the Commission. The General Manager is responsible for assisting the President in ensuring that the Commission performs its functions and exercises it powers under the Fair Work Act. In addition, the General Manager has some functions concerning federally registered organisations under the Registered Organisations Act.

As the head of the Commission's administration, the General Manager is responsible for the Commission's performance, financial management and compliance with regulatory requirements under the PGPA Act and the Public Service Act.


The General Manager is supported by the Executive team, which meets fortnightly to discuss planning and operational issues.

At 30 June 2017, the Executive comprised:

  • General Manager—Bernadette O'Neill
  • Director, Client Services—Louise Clarke
  • Director, Corporate Services—Ailsa Carruthers
  • Director, Tribunal Services—Murray Furlong.

The Director, Regulatory Compliance, Chris Enright, was also a member of the Executive until 30 April 2017. On 1 May 2017, Mr Enright (along with the majority of staff in the Regulatory Compliance Branch) transferred to the Fair Work Ombudsman under machinery of government changes as a result of the commencement of the ROC. Those staff who remained with the Commission after 30 April 2017 transferred to a new Registered Organisations Section of the Tribunal Services Branch.

The Executive is supported by the Senior Management Group, which is made up of senior team leaders across the country. A range of management, oversight and staff committees also support the Commission's operations.

Member and staff committees

A number of committees constituted by Commission Members and senior staff are responsible for overseeing Commission activities.

Rules and Benchbooks

The Rules and Benchbooks Committee includes representatives from the Law Council, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Ai Group, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and Job Watch. The committee's role is to consider changes to the Commission's rules and forms and to develop and maintain benchbooks and practice notes. By providing direct input from the perspective of the Commission's users, external stakeholders play a key role in the operation of this committee.

New Approaches

As well as overseeing the capability and development of Members and staff involved in delivering the New Approaches jurisdiction, the New Approaches Committee coordinates, oversees and reports on the Commission's New Approaches activities.


Members often share their expertise by engaging with dispute resolution agencies from various countries and with international agencies which impact on labour relations, such as the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The International Committee coordinates visits to the Commission by international delegations and, in collaboration with the ILO, assists emerging dispute resolution institutions by providing training and information sharing.

Access, Engagement and Communications

The Access, Engagement and Communications Committee oversees the Commission's engagement with external stakeholders and the community, including through the popular Workplace Relations Education Series of lectures, mock hearings and papers. As well as overseeing the production and maintenance of the Commission's information materials, the committee identifies and harnesses opportunities for broader engagement with the Australian community, including through Members' speaking engagements and participation in relevant forums.

Future Directions

The Future Directions Committee considers initiatives to improve fairness and access, efficiency and accountability. This includes monitoring developments in other courts and tribunals in order to identify ways to continuously improve performance across the Commission, and to develop strategies for particular stakeholder groups such as small businesses.

Fraud management

The Commission has a fraud control plan and conducts fraud risk assessments regularly, including when there is a substantial change in its structure, functions or activities. The fraud control plan establishes mechanisms for preventing, detecting, investigating and reporting on fraud and suspected fraud within the Commission.

Fraud control certification

In accordance with s.10 of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Rule 2014, I hereby certify that I am satisfied that the Fair Work Commission:

  • has prepared fraud risk assessments and fraud control plans
  • has in place appropriate fraud prevention, detection, investigation and reporting mechanisms that meet the specific needs of the Commission
  • has taken all reasonable measures to appropriately deal with fraud relating to the Commission.

Signature: Bernadette O'Neill (General Manager)

Bernadette O'Neill
General Manager

21 September 2017

Compliance with the finance law

The Commission made no reports of significant non-compliance with the finance law as it relates to the Commission in 2016–17. Finance law includes the PGPA Act, including rules and instruments created under the PGPA Act, and any Appropriation Acts.

Risk management

In 2016–17, the Commission continued to embed a contemporary risk management culture and practices across the organisation, in line with the risk management framework introduced by the PGPA Act.

As part of our commitment to improvement, the internal audit program for 2016–17 included a report to the General Manager concerning the Commission's governance. The scope of the review included assessment of obligations under Commonwealth legislative instruments (including the PGPA Act) and specific Department of Employment and portfolio requirements.

Business continuity

During 2016–17, the Commission undertook an internal audit of its business continuity and disaster recovery framework. The review evaluated the Commission's business continuity capabilities and information technology disaster recovery program and identified opportunities to increase relevant capability.

Audit Committee

The Audit Committee provides independent assurance to the General Manager on the Commission's financial and performance reporting responsibilities, risk oversight and management, systems of internal control, and internal audit.

The General Manager appoints Audit Committee members. Three of the four committee members are independent, satisfying the requirement that the majority of committee members must not be officials of the Commission.

During 2016–17, the Audit Committee met four times.

Internal audit

The internal audit program reflects the Commission's purpose and identified risks and can cover any of the Commission's financial and non-financial activities and performance, policies and procedures. The program is developed in consultation with the Executive and endorsed by the Audit Committee. Internal audit reports are provided to the General Manager and Executive and discussed at meetings of the Audit Committee.

In 2016–17, the Commission's internal auditors were Ernst & Young. The following internal audits were undertaken during the year:

  • Governance Framework Review
  • Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Review
  • Data Analytics Review.

Procurement Committee

The Commission's Procurement Committee is managed by the Manager, Reporting, Planning and Legal and includes two other Commission employees. It has a role in ensuring that procurements made by the Commission are consistent with the Commonwealth Procurement Rules and the Commission's policies.


The Commission has a four-year corporate plan. Each year, the corporate plan is reassessed against operational and environmental factors, updated and published online by 31 August.

The intended results for the Commission in 2016–17, as set out in the corporate plan, were to ensure that:

  • the community understands the role of the Commission and recognises it as an independent and expert workplace relations tribunal
  • the Commission is accessible to all Australians, recognising the community's diverse needs and expectations
  • the Commission is efficient, accountable and transparent
  • the Commission is an effective and proactive regulator of registered organisations
  • the Commission is a highly skilled and agile organisation in which its people, processes, systems and technology are aligned to deliver high-quality, efficient and effective services to the community.

The corporate plan is supported by business plans across all branches and aligned with individual staff performance plans. Reports assessing performance against business plans and the corporate plan are presented to the Executive each quarter.


The Major Projects Control Committee, composed of the Executive and senior managers, is responsible for high-level strategic governance of major organisational and capital expenditure projects.

Performance and development framework

The Fair Work Australia Enterprise Agreement 2011–14 is supported by a performance and development framework. Every staff member employed by the Commission for at least three months is required to have an individual performance and development plan.

The framework provides strong links between individual performance and development and the organisation's goals.

The Commission has adopted the guiding principles set out by the Australian Public Service Commission to focus on meaningful conversations, with a view to enabling all employees to perform at their best and grow towards their work goals and career aspirations.

Ethical standards

The Commission's ethical standards are governed by a legislative framework common to non-corporate Commonwealth entities, including the PGPA Act, Public Service Act, Australian Public Service Commissioner's Directions 2016 and Public Service Regulations 1999.


All Commission staff are expected to uphold and act in accordance with the APS Values of:

  • impartial
  • committed to service
  • accountable
  • respectful
  • ethical.

The APS Values guide staff in their daily work and in their interactions with colleagues and the community. They are also embedded in the Commission's recruitment, induction and performance management processes.

Cultural pillars

In addition to the APS Values, the Commission has a particular focus on fostering:

  • Innovation
  • Collaboration
  • Service excellence.

Service charter and complaints

The Commission's Service Charter, available on the Commission's website, outlines the nature and level of service the public can expect from Commission staff.

The website also provides information on how to make a complaint or to provide feedback on the Commission's administrative activities. The Commission relies on feedback and complaints received to inform potential service improvements and to identify service problems.

The Commission has a separate process for dealing with complaints about Members, in accordance with the provisions outlined in the Fair Work Act. Relevant information is available on the Commission's website.

During 2016–17, the Commission received 105 written complaints about our processes and practices. This is a decrease of 27 per cent from 144 complaints in 2015–16.

The Commission aims to respond to written complaints within 20 working days. The Commission responded to written complaints within an average of 16 days in 2016–17. A small number of complaints were highly complex and took significantly longer to resolve. Therefore, the median figure of nine days is more representative of the time taken to respond to complaints.

In 2016–17, the number of complaints about the Commission's processes decreased, although they still represented a significant proportion of overall complaints. A substantial number of those complaints involved issues that were outside the jurisdiction or authority of the Commission's administration. For example, issues included in complaints included disappointment relating to services provided by external representatives and the publication of particulars in decisions.

See Table 51 for the categories and numbers of written complaints received in 2016–17 and previous years.

Table 51: Written complaints
Type of content 2016–17 2015–16 2014–15 2013–14
Member conduct 4 8 10 8
Unfair dismissal conciliation1 32 30 18 20
General protections conciliation2 3 N/A N/A N/A
Outcome of a matter3 7 6 23 12
Timeliness 1 4 1 2
Administration4 17 20 26 13
Pay and entitlements 0 0 2 1
Complaint relating to modern award or enterprise agreements5 1 12 10 4
Adjournment request refusal 0 4 3 3
Process6 37 45 59 24
Other7 3 15 10 17
Total 105 144 162 104

1 Unfair dismissal conciliation includes conciliation processes and conciliator conduct.

2 A new category of complaints in 2016–17.

3 Complaints relating to the outcome of a matter include decisions of the Commission. These matters usually cannot be dealt with through the complaints process and require a formal appeal of the decision to be lodged.

4 Administration includes administrative errors, staff conduct, and errors with the website and lodgment system.

5 Complaints relating to the content of modern awards or enterprise agreements usually cannot be resolved through the complaints process and require a formal application to be lodged to amend or vary these instruments.

6 Process relates to either dissatisfaction with one of the Commission's processes or a fundamental misunderstanding of the process or the authority of the Commission.

7 Other includes complaints about not being able to find documents on the Commission's website.

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