When determining the best way to help people who seek our assistance, we consider their circumstances and the issues being presented. We offer tailored dispute resolution services to parties who are able to resolve their matter through advice and coaching. It is common that people coming to FWO for help are not clear about the application of the law. Our dispute resolution services support employers and employees to understand the law as it applies to them. Our intention is to leave parties better informed, so they are equipped to resolve issues that may arise in the future. We usually start with advice and coaching, moving to mediation if it is appropriate.
In 2016–17, the FWO resolved 25 332 workplace disputes through our dispute resolution services, most within an average of seven days. Where appropriate, customers were coached through their options, referred to online resources and supported to have effective workplace conversations.
In 1585 cases the matters were referred for investigation. We resolved these matters in an average of 136 days—the lengthier timeframe is indicative of the more intensive process involved in formal compliance activities and the features of more serious matters. These compliance activities often feature vulnerable workers and/or uncooperative employers. These cases are more likely to result in the use of our statutory enforcement tools. See Enforcement outcomes.
We mediate appropriate workplace disputes where the parties consent and if it is not possible to resolve them through advice and coaching. Our accredited and impartial mediators worked with parties to resolve 3716 disputes, with over $5.51 million in back-payments recovered for employees in 2016–17. A new digital scheduling system saw an increase in mediation participation as parties were able to self-book session dates and times. In addition to monetary settlements, other outcomes agreed by the parties through mediation included written apologies, changes to working hours and the return of goods or documents.
Small claims assistance
Unresolved disputes may also be referred for small claims assistance. A small claims application is an option when a workplace issue can’t be resolved by agreement between the parties, for example, where an employer does not agree to mediation or mediation is unsuccessful. This option is available for matters where:
- the claim is for less than $20 000
- the entitlement being claimed is covered under Australian workplace laws
- the statutory time limit has not expired (usually six years from when the entitlement was due to be paid).
The FWO assisted over 700 people to pursue their small claims directly before the courts in 2016–17. The courts awarded more than $975 500 to 171 applicants.
In preparation for appearances, we may offer assistance to both employees and employers such as help completing court documents. Comprehensive information, including step-by-step guides and videos, is available on the FWO website to assist people in preparing for an application.
We provide additional assistance to people that experience barriers to taking action, such as those from culturally or linguistically diverse backgrounds, or with low literacy.
FWO lawyers assisted in 137 small claims matters as a ‘friend of the court’. In this capacity we don’t act for either party, but can assist the parties and the court on points of law or practice.