The Fair Work Commission is taking 76 days on average to deal with enterprise agreements – more than double its target period.

The commission’s annual report revealed it did not meet its portfolio budget statement target of a median of 32 days to finalise all agreement approvals.

“In 2017–18 the Commission took longer to deal with applications for approval of agreements than in previous years,” the report stated.

When analysing its performance, the Commission blamed the significant increase in applications as a key contributor to the blowout.

It said the incidence of agreements requiring undertakings nearly tripling since 2013 but conceded there was “scope for further improvement” in its timeliness.

The report also pointed to had also been an “unanticipated, and largely unprecedented“ 50 per cent increase in applications to approve agreements in December 2017, and an almost threefold increase to 602 in applications to vary agreements.

In 2017–18, the Commission also received 13,595 unfair dismissal applications, with 43 per cent of total applications lodged in the year.

FWC President Justice Iain Ross said a major review of all Commission information resources would be undertaken to ensure that everyone who uses the tribunal’s services is provided with the information they want, at the time they need it, and in the most useful form.

“Starting with unfair dismissal information, the review will include our Rules, forms, correspondence, formal directions and the guidance material on our website, to ensure that they are accessible, accurate and consistent,” he said.

“We will consult broadly throughout this process and incorporate user‑testing and evaluation to make sure we get it right.”

It comes after new research into the performance of the FWC in July recommended to improve the unfair dismissal processes, ensure greater consistency in discretionary decisions and simplify the awards system.

At the time AMMA identified a number of common themes across the research that aligned to the priorities of members, including reform of modern awards.

One of the issues highlighted by Bruce Billson, who was engaged by the FWC to deliver the study, Working better for small business, was that the “modern awards” system needed to be less complex and more accessible, and smaller employers should be more easily able to reach enterprise agreements as an alternative to strict award compliance.

AMMA chief executive Steve Knott said the evidence backed up employer concerns about the Commission’s resourcing.

“Our workplace relations framework must be made more simple and workable in the real world,” he said.

“Everything points to the critical need for our national decision makers to act on the feedback of employers and indeed employees, backed up in the Commission’s own performance reviews, as well as its own reporting.”

“The Commission is clearly under significant and unacceptable workload pressures, and the resourcing issue should be addressed by the urgent appointment of more tribunal members.“

In July, AMMA wrote to Minister for Small and Family Business, the Workplace and Deregulation, Craig Laundy, recommending he consider a number of important reforms to the Fair Work Commission.

The letter detailed three primary areas for the Minister’s review.

  • Limiting appointment terms of tribunal members to 10 years.
  • Extending the statutory retirement age of tribunal members to 70 (from the current 65).
  • Appointment at least seven more tribunal members to address resourcing challenges at the Commission.

The letter outlined the government would be well justified in appointing at least seven new tribunal members by the end of this year.

“This would raise the number of tribunal members from the current 39 members to 46 members – corresponding with the size of the Fair Work Commission when the Australian Labor Party was last in government in 2013,” Mr Knott said.

For more information on AMMA’s advocacy relating to Australia’s employment institutions, contact [email protected].