Future Directions is a change program launched by the Commission to improve the performance and quality of the services it provides. It delivers initiatives under four key themes, including promoting fairness and improving access.
Phase one completed
Fair Hearings Practice Note
The Fair Hearings Practice Note sets out the obligations of Members, parties and their representatives in relation to the provision of a fair hearing. It gives those appearing before the Commission an understanding of, and some certainty around, how their matter will proceed. The Practice Note was published on the Commission’s website on 23 July 2013:
Unfair dismissal information for self-represented parties
Information was made available in a variety of forms such as booklets and multi-media, including improved information guides about unfair dismissal and an eligibility checklist. During the reporting period a series of videos have also been developed about the process for unfair dismissal matters as part of the virtual tour project.
Virtual tour of the Commission
The virtual tour explains the practicalities of accessing the Commission’s offices and details the processes and procedures followed in unfair dismissal proceedings. It is a significant resource for self-represented parties and first-time users.
General protections information to assist self-represented parties
Improved information materials have been developed to assist self-represented parties (both applicants and employers) in general protections matters, an area of law that is often found to be complicated.
Unfair dismissal benchbook
The unfair dismissal benchbook was published on 3 July 2013. The benchbook contains plain English summaries of the key principles of unfair dismissal case law and how these have been applied in Commission decisions. Since publication it has been updated to include any legislative amendments. It can be accessed on the Commission’s website:
Benchbooks were developed for both general protections and the new anti-bullying jurisdiction and were made available on the Commission’s website for public consultation. After extensive feedback the benchbooks were published in their final form on 3 January and 6 January 2014 respectively. These benchbooks are updated to include any legislative amendments and new relevant decisions, and will assist the high number of self-represented parties in these types of applications. They can be accessed on the Commission’s website:
Review of application forms
The Commission has completed a review of its application forms to improve accessibility and reduce the number of forms. Twenty six forms were revised and a new format developed. Further forms are being considered as a part of the next phase of Future Directions.
General protections pilot program
In conjunction with the Employment Law Centre of Western Australia, the Commission ran a pilot program for the provision of independent legal advice to self-represented parties which continued until 30 June 2013. Following the pilot program the RMIT Centre for Innovative Justice conducted an assessment of the first 10 months of its operation, in particular examining participants’ responses to the pilot and the impact the pilot program had on their applications. The report was published in July 2013. The Commission is considering these recommendations with a view to establishing an ongoing program to assist self-represented applicants.
Pro bono service
In December 2013 the Commission concluded a pilot program based in Melbourne which assisted self-represented parties in unfair dismissal jurisdiction proceedings by providing access to free legal assistance. A review of the program was conducted by the RMIT Centre for Innovative Justice. Following the review, some changes were made to the process to ensure the service continued to meet the Commission’s aim of providing fairness and access to justice. The review also recommended that the program should be implemented on an ongoing basis. Accordingly, a new program was launched as part of the second phase of Future Directions. The Commission now has a pro bono lawyer program to support parties in unfair dismissal matters in both Melbourne and Sydney.
The Commission’s website has been completely redesigned and upgraded, with the aim to make it easier for users to select the sections relevant to them and to search for the specific information they require. Further work is being undertaken to support this aim.
Phase two commenced
Development of further benchbooks and making them available online
Following on from the creation of the unfair dismissal, anti-bullying and general protections benchbooks delivered as part of the first phase of Future Directions, a further benchbook will be developed about agreement making.
Access to audio files of Commission hearings
By the end of 2015 the Commission aims to provide access to audio files of most hearings from the Commission’s website. This will provide greater accessibility to parties and the public while also ensuring appropriate security is in place for sensitive matters.
Broadening the scope of the current pro bono lawyer program
Following the success of last year’s pilot program, planning commenced in the first half of 2014 to recommence the service as a permanent initiative in Melbourne. The pro bono service provides unrepresented parties with free legal assistance in unfair dismissal jurisdictional hearings before the Commission in Melbourne. The recommendations from the RMIT report of the pilot scheme were used as a basis for changing this service to better meet the needs of the parties. The service recommenced on 1 July 2014. A pro bono lawyer program is also running in Sydney.
Pilot information kiosk in Sydney
By the end of 2014 we aim to pilot an information kiosk in the Sydney Registry in order to assess how it is used by clients attending at the Registry and whether it should be rolled out to other offices. An information kiosk will enable applicants to complete and lodge forms electronically and access information about both the Commission and other relevant agencies.
Produce virtual tours covering general protections and anti-bullying
In the first phase of Future Directions, the Commission prepared a set of videos which were intended for first-time unrepresented users of the Commission, largely focused on location assistance, jurisdictional objections and unfair dismissal. The second phase will focus on providing information to enhance unrepresented parties’ knowledge and ability to utilise the Commission in the areas of general protections, anti-bullying and agreement making.
Processes for Commission staff to identify issues where self-represented applicants may wish to seek legal advice
By the end of 2014 the Commission aims to introduce a system where upon lodgment staff assess applications and identify particular issues which may require the applicant to seek legal advice prior to the matter progressing to a Commission Member, for instance, unfair dismissal matters that have been made outside of the legislative timeframe. This will enable clients an opportunity to address obvious problems with applications early in the process.
Review and update all forms
The forms review project will continue the work delivered as part of the first phase of Future Directions to simplify access to the Commission by improving accessibility and readability of forms, particularly for self-represented parties, and increasing the level of guidance we currently provide on how to make and respond to applications. The project will also deliver a simplified fee waiver form to reduce the administrative burden on applicants experiencing financial hardship.
Improve access to information and advice
During 2014 and 2015 we will improve access to, and presentation of, information and advice through:
- continued improvement of the materials provided on our website
- enhancing the Commission website’s capacity to search and collate content of collective agreements, and
- conducting education webinars that enable clients to obtain detailed, targeted information.
Examine effective use of technology
During 2014 and 2015 the Commission will examine how we can more effectively use technology, including live streaming of significant matters and improved access from remote areas.