Delivery of Commission services

In exercising powers and functions under the Fair Work Act, the Commission provides assistance to a range of parties, including employees and employers and their representatives, federally registered unions, and employer organisations.

The Commission offers a wide range of advice and assistance over the telephone, in person and through correspondence and information materials on our website.

Delivery of Commission services


Tribunal processes commence once a formal application has been lodged with the Commission.

In 2017–18, a total of 31,554 applications were lodged with the Commission, a decrease of 5 per cent compared with a total of 33,071 in 2016–17. Table 1 summarises the number of applications lodged according to matter type from 2014–15 to 2017–18; more detail on lodgments in 2017–18 is in Table D16 in Appendix D.

In 2017–18, unfair dismissal applications were the most common, making up approximately 43 per cent of total applications, as in 2016–17. Consistent with previous years, applications for approval of an enterprise agreement were the second most common, making up 17 per cent of total applications. Applications for general protections involving dismissal made up 13 per cent of total applications in 2017–18.

There was a notable but expected drop, of 87 per cent, in the number of applications concerning registered organisations. This relates to the commencement of the Registered Organisations Commission in the previous reporting period. Most of the General Manager’s powers and functions concerning registered organisations transferred to the Registered Organisations Commission on 1 May 2017.

Table 1: Applications lodged, by matter type
Matter type 2017–18 2016–17 2015–16 2014–15
Unfair dismissal 13,595 14,135 14,694 14,624
Agreement approvals 5,287 5,698 5,529 5,922
General protections involving dismissal1 4,117 3,729 3,270 3,382
Agreements—other2 1,789 1,180 1,335 1,469
Dispute resolution3 1,767 2,106 2, 194 2,331
General protections—other4 992 937 940 993
Industrial action5 895 797 1,272 957
Order to stop bullying 721 722 734 694
Bargaining6 349 399 408 479
Appeals 190 237 283 336
Registered organisations 163 1,243 1,472 1,120
Other matters 1,689 1,888 2,084 1,845
Total 31,554 33,071 34,215 34,152

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

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

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

4 Applications made under ss.372 and 773 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 2017–18, the Commission held 11,196 hearings and conferences around Australia, a reduction of 29 per cent compared with a total of 15,804 in 2016–17.

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

Members hold hearings and conferences by telephone or videoconference wherever suitable, to reduce parties’ travel time and costs and to ensure efficient use of Commission resources. In 2017–18, 32 per cent of all hearings and conferences conducted by Members were held by telephone or videoconference, up from 27 per cent in 2016–17. Twenty one per cent 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 10,491 conciliation conferences during 2017–18. Conciliators hold conferences in relation to applications concerning unfair dismissal, general protections involving dismissal and anti-bullying. The overwhelming majority of conciliations are conducted by telephone. See Table D15 in Appendix D for detailed information on hearings and conferences.

Decisions and orders

In 2017–18, the Commission issued a total of 9,717 decisions and orders, a decrease of 12 per cent from 2016–17, as set out in Table D14 in Appendix D.

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.

In addition, the Commission has set 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 set a standard to which the Commission aspires, as well as quantifiable measures of improvement that provide transparency and accountability.

The following graphics compare the Tribunal’s performance against benchmarks in 2017–18 with its performance before the introduction of the benchmarks. While performance has improved in most instances 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

 Timeliness benchmarks—reserved decisions

Figure 3: Timeliness benchmarks—agreements

 Timeliness benchmarks—agreements

Figure 4: Timeliness benchmarks—appeals

 Timeliness benchmarks—appeals

Figure 5: Timeliness benchmarks—reserved decisions in appeals

 Timeliness benchmarks—reserved decisions in appeals

In focus—placing users at the centre of service delivery

The Commission’s approach places users at the centre of initiatives to improve service delivery. In 2017–18, we undertook a range of user experience research projects and sought feedback and ideas about how services could better meet user needs. The research projects complement and build on earlier initiatives.

Unfair dismissal user experience research

The Commission engaged Cube Group, specialist user experience practitioners, to conduct user experience workshops with self-represented employers from small and medium-sized enterprises (with fewer than 50 employees) and self-represented applicants. The focus of the research was to provide useful, specific and practical insights about the Commission’s unfair dismissal case management process.

The report is available on the Commission’s website at

Working better for small business consultation program

The Commission engaged Mr Bruce Billson of Agile Advisory to consult with small business operators and their representatives about how our procedures and resources might better meet the needs of small business.

The report is available on the Commission’s website at

What’s Next

The two reports provided valuable insights and suggestions as to how to improve the Commission’s services. Shortly after the reporting period the Commission launched What’s Next, setting out the changes we will make in 2018–19 to improve access and reduce complexity for our users.

The What’s Next plan is available on the Commission’s website at

Unfair dismissal client service survey

The Commission engaged Wallis Consulting Group to survey unfair dismissal client experiences encompassing all elements and stages of the case management process.

The survey was launched in October 2017 to invite feedback and ideas from unfair dismissal applicants, respondents and representatives. Further surveying took place in May 2018.

More than 2,300 participants—approximately 1,000 unfair dismissal applicants, 1,000 employer respondents to unfair dismissal applications and 300 representatives of parties to unfair dismissal matters—volunteered to share their experiences and ideas. Participants were able to complete the survey online or by telephone.

In 2018–19, findings from the survey will be used and reported in a range of ways to benchmark and monitor service performance and help to develop new and improved practices and resources.

In focus—looking ahead to our new case management system

In 2017–18, the Commission designed and built a new case management system to replace our outdated online lodgment facility. The new system, eCase, is a quick, simple tool that allows employees, employers and their representatives to access information about their case at any time and from any device. They can upload their information, download information from other parties, check the progress of their case and receive SMS reminders of upcoming key events and due dates. A scheduling ‘engine’ named FairTasker will enable cases to be scheduled taking into account the needs of participants, the availability of interpreter services, case urgency and resourcing considerations. Employees and employers will have a greater say about when unfair dismissal conciliations are scheduled, with parties able to identify dates that are not suitable before the case is scheduled.

eCase will be launched in 2018–19 and will continue to be enhanced as we move into the next phase of design and development.