Inquiries from the public

A significant part of the Commission's resources are dedicated to dealing with inquiries from the public, which come via its website, telephone inquiry line, through emails or visits to its offices in each capital city.

For a full list of Commission offices see Appendix M.

Website visits

The Commission's website is the primary source of information for the community about its work, including information about the legislative framework, how applications are made and determined and outcomes of Commission activities.

As noted in Figure 3, the website recorded 3,766,398 visits in 2014–15, which is an increase of 15.5 per cent (3,259,939) recorded from the previous year. Visits are increasing on both mobile phone and tablet devices (up by 65 per cent and 18.9 per cent respectively). This change reflects broad technological shifts in the community towards using these devices. The video content made available on the website and through the Commission's YouTube channel was viewed more than 36,550 times.

Further work continues on the Commission's website to improve its functionality and usability. More than 1000 internal and external users participated in interviews and surveys reviewing the design, experience, functionality and content in 2014–15. The results of these interviews, together with survey responses, have been collated in a report outlining suggested improvements to the website in order to support a broad range of users as they access the information they need. Further work will be undertaken in relation to the Commission's website in 2015–16.

Figure 3: Website visits

Figure 3 shows details of the Commission's website visits in 2014-15, including desktop, mobile and tablet visits. The Commission had 3,766,398 desktop visits in 2014-15, which is an increase of 15.5 per cent from the previous year. It also shows website visits dating back to the 2009-10 financial year. These figures can be found in Table G2.

For source data see Table G2.

Telephone inquiries

The Commission also provides telephone information services. Commission staff are available to answer queries about the Commission's functions, activities, processes and procedures. Calls can be made to the Commission via a national telephone inquiry number (1300 799 675) with different options available to callers based on topic areas. Calls are also made directly to Commission offices; to various staff support teams such as the unfair dismissal conciliation support team or directly to the Chambers of a Member dealing with a case.

In 2013–14, the Commission progressively integrated the national telephone inquiry number with all of its offices and the conciliation support team. This new centralised system allows the Commission to better track and monitor call volumes, wait times and activities and to provide more detailed reporting on these calls. Reporting for the year 2014–15 shows the first full year of recording the number of inquiry calls under the new system.

The Commission received 207,749 telephone inquiries through these three streams during 2014–15. Eighty six per cent (179,012) of these calls were made via the Commission's national telephone enquiry number (1300 799 675). Of these, 44 per cent (78,856) elected to end the call after listening to a message referring their query to another appropriate agency such as the Australian Tax Office. Commission staff answered 59,310 telephone queries with the median wait time for a call to be answered of three minutes and eight seconds. Fifty six per cent of callers self-identified their query as relating to the making or progress of an unfair dismissal application.

Commission staff from across the nation answer calls, with the workload spread around the country to accommodate different time zones, as well as peaks and troughs in the flow of incoming calls.

Applications lodged

In 2014–15 the Commission received 34,152 applications, which was a decrease of 7.9 per cent from 2013–14. Applicants select a Commission office when they lodge an application, and this is usually the state or territory capital in which they are located. The majority of applications are made in either Melbourne or Sydney; 35.8 per cent of all applications are lodged in Melbourne and 26.46 per cent in Sydney.

Figure 4: Applications lodged, hearings and conferences, and decisions and orders published

Figure 4 is a line graph showing the number of applications lodged, hearings and conferences held and the number of decisions and orders subsequently published between 2011-12 and 2014-15. It is a visual representation of the data in Table G1.

Table 1: Lodgments by location (Registry of lodgment)
Location 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15 % of lodgments
Adelaide 2378 2225 2174 1977 5.79
Brisbane 5894 5963 5692 5624 16.47
Canberra 819 754 625 513 1.50
Darwin 314 390 409 439 1.29
Hobart 614 633 658 637 1.87
Melbourne 14,826 13,608 13,857 12,227 35.80
Newcastle 81 314 266 123 0.36
Perth 3169 3675 3614 3518 10.30
Sydney 9323 9014 9716 9035 26.46
Wollongong 26 40 55 59 0.17
Total 37,444 36,616 37,066 34,152  

Photo of a Commission hearing room.

Image: The Commission received 34,152 applications this year, and conducted a total of 19,922 hearings and conferences either by telephone, video link or in a hearing or conference room.

Figure 5: Case load by matter type

Figure 5 is a graph showing the case load numbers by matter type. It is a visual representation of the data contained in Table G3.
For source data see Table G3. For a full breakdown of numbers of applications by sections of legislation see Table G4.

This does not mean that applications lodged in a particular location are dealt with by either the Members or staff in that location. In 2014–15 the Commission continued to explore different ways of conducting matters to improve services to the parties and the community generally by making efficiency improvements.

Commission staff receive and administer applications work on a national workload allocation system, which assists to manage peaks and troughs of work in different locations. This approach has been enhanced with the implementation of the national telephone inquiry service involving staff across the country, and an increase in administrative work-sharing. In 2014–15, 15 per cent of applications were processed in a location other than where the application was lodged. Fifty per cent of all applications were processed in under one working day, with 88 per cent processed in under two days. The median application processing time of one business day was maintained in 2014–15.

Unfair dismissal applications that are initially dealt with over the telephone by a staff conciliator are allocated according to the availability of the parties and conciliators, rather than by their location. Refinements to this model of work allocation have contributed to a significant decline in the time between the lodgment of an application and the conduct of a conciliation conference in 2014–15.

Three pilot programs were trialled in 2014–15 aimed at improving the Commission's services in applications for enterprise agreements, general protections and in permission to appeal a decision of a Member. These pilot programs involved changes in work distribution, other than by location of lodgment, which also saw improvements in the time taken to deal with these applications.

Trends in application types

The Commission's overall case load for 2014–15 decreased by 7.9 per cent. This decrease in applications was largely a result of a significant decrease in the number of applications made to terminate individual agreement-based transitional instruments, which decreased by 73 per cent to 767 applications from 2841 in 2013–14. The number of applications for the approval of enterprise agreements fell by 12.3 per cent, with 832 fewer applications made.

Individual matters continue to make up a significant proportion of the Commission's workload. Consistent with previous years, the greatest number of applications made to the Commission are for an unfair dismissal remedy, which account for 42.8 per cent of all applications. This year showed a slight decline of 1.2 per cent in the number of unfair dismissal applications received. Applications from individuals under the general protections provisions of the Fair Work Act increased by 17.5 per cent in 2014–15, accounting for 9.9 per cent of all applications made. The Commission conducted a pilot program in 2014–15 to assist to manage this increase in applications. This is discussed in the General Protections Pilot In Focus and the General protections telephone conciliation case study.

Applications to deal with disputes under agreements or awards fell by 13.6 per cent in 2014–15 compared with the previous year, while applications for the Commission to deal with bargaining disputes increased slightly, by 12.8 per cent on the previous year, to 476 applications. Applications relating to industrial action continue to decline with 3.4 per cent fewer applications made in 2014–15 compared with the previous year, and 32.6 per cent fewer applications than those made in 2011–12.

There was also an increase in the lodgment of appeal applications made in 2014–15. Three hundred and thirty-six applications were made compared with 214 in the previous year.

Hearings and conferences

In 2014–15 the Commission held 19,922 hearings and conferences, a slight increase from the previous year. Hearings and conferences are held around Australia, including in the Commission's capital city offices, in regional locations, and by telephone and video conference. In some cases Members can also make decisions by requesting parties to submit their materials in writing so a decision can be made 'on the papers'.

Commission Members are increasingly holding hearings and conferences by telephone and video conference. This means that the parties often do not have to leave their home or workplace in order to participate and assists to improve the overall timeliness of dealing with matters.

Trends in Commission sittings

Trends in the Commission's workload and sittings are illustrated in Figure 6. The data shown is an extracted subset of data in Figure 5 and Tables 1 and 2 and provides an overview of the sittings for four of the Commission's significant case types. Many of the major processes the Commission undertakes, such as the review of modern awards and the annual wage review, commence in accordance with statutory requirements, rather than by application, and so the work associated with these major functions is not represented in data on case load types. These matters are referred to as legislative reviews.

Figure 6 demonstrates the impact that particular matters may have on the Commission's workload, which is not able to be reflected in other data regarding applications and lodgments. Refer to Appendix F for the full methodology.

The most recent period continues the general trend of an increase in sittings for unfair dismissal matters and a decline in the number of sittings for matters relating to agreements and industrial action. This generally corresponds with observed shifts in applications to the Commission during this time.

The peaks and troughs over recent years for sittings relating to legislative reviews correspond with established timetables under the Fair Work Act, largely relating to award modernisation matters. The sharp increase in sittings for legislative review matters in 2014–15 can be attributed to the conferences, mentions and hearings undertaken by the Commission in the performance of the 4 yearly review of modern awards, pursuant to Part 2–3, Divisions 4 and 4A of the Fair Work Act.

Table 2: Hearings and conferences by location
City/Town 2013–14 2014–15
Adelaide 284 312
Brisbane 1359 1145
Canberra 214 124
Darwin 41 38
Hobart 70 103
Melbourne 3653 3479
Newcastle 230 154
Perth 727 627
Sydney 2572 2650
Wollongong 133 216
Other places 356 244
In Chambers 6028 5690
Telephone1 3198 3809
Video 755 1331
Total 19,620 19,922
  1. Does not include telephone conferences conducted by administrative staff.


Figure 6: Number of sittings for various types of applications, 2009–10 to 2014–15

Figure 6 is a graph showing the number of sittings for agreements, legislative reviews, matters related to industrial action and unfair dismissal matters from 2009â  10 to 2014â  15. Refer to Table F1 for the source data for this graph.

Methodology is at Appendix F.