Industrial disputes

The Commission can assist parties in resolving a wide range of disputes under the Fair Work Act.

The majority of disputes relate to the terms of an enterprise agreement or a modern award. The Commission’s capacity to deal with such disputes depends on the nature of the dispute resolution term in the relevant agreement or modern award. Most commonly, the Commission is empowered to resolve a dispute through conciliation, mediation, an opinion or a recommendation. Some agreement terms also empower the Commission to arbitrate a dispute with a binding determination.

Applications may also be lodged:

  • under s.526 of the Fair Work Act, to deal with disputes where employees have been stood down due to industrial action, a breakdown of machinery or equipment or any other stoppage of work where the employer cannot reasonably be held responsible
  • under s. 699 or s.709 of the repealed Workplace Relations Act 1996, as amended by the Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Act 2005, to deal with disputes involving agreements that were made under the Workplace Relations Act 1996.

Performance

In 2017–18:

  • 1,630 applications in relation to disputes were lodged
  • 1,617 applications (99 per cent), including 41 applications about flexible working arrangements, were made under s.739 of the Fair Work Act.

Each year, the large majority (around 99 per cent) of applications to deal with disputes in relation to awards, agreements and contracts are made under s.739.

The number of applications made under s.739 of the Fair Work Act decreased by 17 per cent, to 1,617 in 2017–18 from 1,940 in 2016–17, as shown in Table 28. This is consistent with a longer term decline, with the number of matters finalised decreasing by 23 per cent between 2014–15 and 2017–18.

Consistent with results in previous years, only a small number of applications in 2017–18 were lodged under s.526 of the Fair Work Act, and the number of applications made under the Workplace Relations Act continued to decline.

Table 28: Dispute applications—applications lodged and finalised
  No. lodged No. finalised
Matter type 2017–18 2016–17 2015–16 2014–15 2017–18 2016–17 2015–16 2014–15
FWA s.526—Application to deal with a dispute involving stand down 9 10 17 17 8 12 21 13
WRA s.699—Application to Fair Work Australia to have an alternative dispute resolution process conducted 0 0 1 2 0 0 1 2
WRA s.709—Application to Fair Work Australia to have a dispute resolution process conducted under a workplace agreement 4 6 11 37 3 6 17 41
FWA s.739—Application to deal with a dispute 1,576 1,888 2,001 2,078 1,542 1,695 1,932 2,019
FWA s.739—Application to deal with a dispute in relation to flexible working arrangements 41 52 32 41 36 45 34 40
Total 1,630 1,956 2,062 2,175 1,589 1,758 2,005 2,115

FWA = Fair Work Act, WRA = Workplace Relations Act 1996 (repealed).

Note: The number of applications finalised does not equal the number of applications lodged in the financial year because some applications are finalised outside the year in which they are lodged.

Timeliness

In 2017–18, the Commission held the first conference dealing with a dispute in a median of 19 days from lodgment of the application, and a conference was held within 48 days in 90 per cent of cases, as shown in Table 29. This represents a 12 per cent increase in the median number of days taken to deal with a dispute when compared with the results for 2016–17.

Table 29: Dispute applications—timeliness
  Days elapsed
  In 50% of matters In 90% of matters
Process 2017–18 2016–17 2015–16 2014–15 2017–18 2016–17 2015–16 2014–15
FWA s.739—Application to deal with a dispute—lodgment to first conference 19 17 16 16 48 43 42 45

FWA = Fair Work Act