The Commission is Australia’s national workplace relations tribunal. It was established by the Fair Work Act 2009 (Fair Work Act) and is responsible for administering the provisions of the Fair Work Act.
The Commission’s powers and functions include:
- dealing with unfair dismissal claims
- dealing with anti-bullying claims
- dealing with general protections and unlawful termination claims
- setting the national minimum wage and minimum wages in modern awards
- making, reviewing and varying modern awards
- assisting the bargaining process for enterprise agreements
- approving, varying and terminating enterprise agreements
- making orders to stop or suspend industrial action
- dealing with disputes brought to the Commission under the dispute resolution procedures of modern awards and enterprise agreements
- determining applications for right of entry permits
- promoting cooperative and productive workplace relations and preventing disputes.
The Commission and General Manager also have responsibilities in relation to the registration, amalgamation and cancellation of registered organisations and the making and alteration of their rules under the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 (Registered Organisations Act).
The Commission’s purpose, as included in its corporate plan, and outcomes and programs as specified in the 2017–18 portfolio budget statements are set out in the annual performance statements.
The Commission consists of the Tribunal—the President, two Vice Presidents, Deputy Presidents, Commissioners and expert panel members—supported by a General Manager and administrative staff. Figure 1 shows the Commission’s structure.
Figure 1: Organisational structure at 30 June 2018
The Commission is headed by the President, the Hon Justice Iain Ross AO, who is also a Judge of the Federal Court of Australia.
Commission Members perform quasi-judicial functions under the Fair Work Act, including conducting public hearings and private conferences for both individual and collective matters. They also perform certain functions under the Registered Organisations Act concerning federally registered unions and employer organisations.
Members are independent statutory office holders appointed by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the Australian Government. They are appointed until the age of 65 on a full-time basis, although they may perform duties on a part-time basis with the President’s approval. Members of state industrial tribunals may hold a dual appointment to the Commission. Expert panel members are appointed on a part-time basis for a specified period of not more than five years.
Members come from diverse backgrounds, including the law, unions and employer associations, human resources and corporate management, and the public service. Expert panel members must have knowledge or experience in one or more fields specific to their panel.
Members often share their expertise and engage with the community by participating in a range of presentations, speeches and events in Australia and internationally. For a list of such activities in 2017–18, see Appendix C.
During 2017–18, the following Members were appointed to the Commission (in order of appointment): Deputy President Masson, Deputy President Beaumont and Deputy President Millhouse.
During 2017–18, Commissioner Roe, Commissioner Ryan and Deputy President Gooley retired.
The panel system
The Commission allocates work predominantly through a panel system overseen by the President. The panel system seeks to ensure that matters are dealt with efficiently by Members with experience and expertise in particular areas.
At 30 June 2018, the Commission had eight panels:
- major resources/infrastructure projects
- government and recreational services
- manufacturing and building industry
- transport, agriculture, mining and services
- termination of employment
- expert panel for the annual wage review.
For more information on the panel system, see Appendix A and Appendix B.
The Commission’s General Manager is Bernadette O’Neill. The General Manager’s statutory function is to assist the President in ensuring that the Commission performs its functions and exercises its powers under the Fair Work Act. The General Manager also exercises limited functions and powers concerning federally registered unions and employer organisations under the Registered Organisations Act.
As the accountable authority, the General Manager is responsible for the Commission’s performance, financial management and compliance with requirements under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA Act).
The General Manager is supported by Commission staff, who are employed under the Public Service Act 1999 (Public Service Act). Staff are organised into three branches, with the head of each branch, together with the General Manager, forming the Executive.
Client Services, headed by Louise Clarke, handles the majority of enquiries, both by telephone and at offices in each state and territory. Staff receive and process applications, prepare files, coordinate hearing and conference rooms, maintain the case management system, arrange and conduct conciliations and mediations, and publish documents (including decisions and orders).
Corporate Services, headed by Ailsa Carruthers, is responsible for corporate governance and reporting, legal services, financial management and resources, internal communications, human resources and information technology.
Tribunal Services, headed by Murray Furlong, provides research, project management and administrative support to Commission Members. Tribunal Services staff support the work of Members in chambers, undertake specialist workplace relations and economic research, and assist with managing large statutory reviews, such as those concerning modern awards and the minimum wage. In addition, they perform analysis of enterprise agreements, coordinate arbitration hearings for unfair dismissal matters, provide research for individual Members, maintain a workplace relations library and provide support for the Commission’s engagement activities. Staff process right of entry permit applications and support the functions of the Tribunal and General Manager under the Registered Organisations Act.
Clients and stakeholders
The Commission’s work directly or indirectly affects most of Australia’s employees and employers and, as a consequence, the Commission has a diverse group of clients and stakeholders.
In broad terms, the Commission has jurisdiction over a national system that covers:
- all private sector employers and employees in all states and territories except Western Australia (where private sector coverage is limited to constitutional corporations)
- the Commonwealth public sector
- all employers and employees in the territories and in Victoria (with limited exceptions in relation to some state public sector employees)
- some public sector and local government employment in other states.
The Commission’s anti-bullying jurisdiction extends to a broader range of workers (in addition to employees) when they are at work in constitutionally-covered businesses.
In focus—sharing international perspectives on dispute resolution
On 1 November 2017 the Commission hosted the International Perspectives on Dispute Resolution Conference in Melbourne. This public conference is part of a wider series of meetings and events for the heads of international workplace relations and dispute resolution agencies, and was hosted by Australia for the first time in a decade.
The international guests included:
- Sir Brendan Barber, Chair, Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service Council, United Kingdom
- Mr Scot Beckenbaugh, Deputy Director, Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, United States of America
- Ms Oonagh Buckley, Director General, Workplace Relations Commission, Republic of Ireland
- Mr Cameron Morajane, Director, Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, South Africa
- Ms Ginette Brazeau, Chairperson, Canada Industrial Relations Board, Canada
- Ms Cara Takitimu, National Dispute Resolution Manager, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, New Zealand.
The conference was facilitated by Dr Marian Baird AO, Professor of Gender and Employment Relations at the University of Sydney, and brought together local and international heads of workplace relations and dispute resolution agencies to discuss developments and innovations in practice. They were joined by leading local academics and experts who reflected on Australia’s progress in areas including online dispute resolution, user design and interest-based negotiation.
The conference featured presentations and panel sessions on topics including dispute resolution, equal remuneration, user design and stakeholder engagement.
Justice Iain Ross AO presenting to the International Perspectives on Dispute Resolution Conference in Melbourne on 1 November 2017