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Assisted dispute resolution services

There are close to 2.2 million businesses and over 12.51 million workers across Australia. Our operating model is therefore based on a risk-based strategic education, advice and enforcement approach, which comprises both responsive and proactive interventions. This approach enables us to achieve the most effective outcomes using the tools and resources we have available.

When deciding how best to assist the people that seek our assistance, we consider the circumstances and issues on a case-by-case basis. Our assisted dispute resolution services recognise that different issues require different types of assistance, and aims to resolve problems between employers and employees before they escalate into formal disputes. This approach helps to sustain effective employment relationships and enable recovery of any unpaid wages quicker than enforcement action.

In 2017-18, the number of workplace disputes finalised through the agency’s early intervention, mediation and small claims assistance services increased compared to all previous years. The FWO finalised 27 074 of workplace disputes (96% of all disputes) through our assisted dispute resolution services in an average of seven days.

Early intervention

Where employees and employers require assistance to resolve their workplace issue, they may be referred to a FWO early intervention specialist in the first instance.

The advice given during early intervention is tailored in response to the issues raised and the needs of the customer. It can include facilitated discussions with a focus on supporting customers to have effective workplace conversations, coaching customers through their options, provision of online resources and education, and moving to mediation if appropriate.

Early intervention specialists coach and advise customers about how to raise concerns with their employer or employee. The process can empower customers by teaching them how to resolve their own dispute quickly and informally, and can prevent an issue from escalating. The FWO resolved more disputes via early intervention in 2017-18, with over 20 000 disputes finalised via this method. Around 60% of the more than $20.8 million recovered from our education and dispute resolution activities was via early intervention services.

Table 5: Early intervention disputes and recoveries, 2016-18
  2017-18 2016-17
Disputes completed 20 538 17 476
Monies recovered $12 611 943 $9 038 112


We mediate appropriate workplace disputes where the parties consent.

In 2017-18, our accredited mediators worked with parties to finalise 5125 disputes and recovered over $6.5 million in wages, a 38% and 18% increase respectively on the previous year.

In addition to monetary settlements, other non-monetary outcomes agreed by the parties through mediation can include apologies, changes to working arrangements and the return of goods and documents.

Small claims assistance

Where disputes cannot be resolved through early intervention or mediation, customers may be offered assistance with lodging a matter in the small claims court. This service is provided to both employees and employers for matters where the claim is for less than $20 000.

Our assistance team help customers with their small claims in a number of ways, which may include:

  • drafting a pre-claim letter to the employer
  • discussing different court options
  • preparing and presenting calculations
  • completing court forms including applications and responses
  • explaining different stages of court processes
  • filing and serving court documents.

FWO lawyers also attend small claims lists 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.

In 2017-18, the FWO assisted over 800 people through the small claims assistance process, recovering $1 224 145 in unpaid entitlements.

  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Labour Force, Australia, June 2018, cat. no. 6202.0, ABS, Canberra