House committee probes FWC workload stemming from unfair dismissal cases

By Jackson Graham

Friday November 12, 2021

Andrew Laming.
Liberal MP Andrew Laming will chair the House committee.(AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

A rise in the caseload at the Fair Work Commission due to more unfair dismissal matters and vaccination mandates stemming from the pandemic will be the subject of a new inquiry. 

The House of Representatives’ Employment, Education and Training Committee will turn its focus to the operations of the commission and employer groups from next week. 

The commission’s 2020-21 annual report shows it has been improving on responding to unfair dismissal matters, with cases addressed in a median of 21 days, down from 34 days the year prior. 

In 2019-20 the commission saw unfair dismissal cases rise to nearly 34,000 cases but that fell 13% in the most recent financial year. 

“The number of applications to the commission stabilised in 2020–21, following the very high volumes seen in 2019–20,” the annual report says. “However, the Commission continues to monitor application levels and external factors closely to ensure it is able to quickly respond to changes in its operating environment associated with the pandemic.” 

Liberal MP Andrew Laming will chair the House committee and said it would consider the 2019-20 annual report, and scrutinise the commission on its role and performance. 

“The commission also notes that significant measures have only recently taken effect, such as vaccine mandates,” Laming said.

He said the committee would ask employment groups how vaccine requirements and mandates on employees and employers would likely impact the commission’s workload going forward.  

A decision to uphold a dismissal case in September, involving a requirement a nursing home employee receive a flu vaccine, sparked division at the commission when the deputy president Lyndall Dean opposed her colleagues and likened the outcome to “medical apartheid”.

The Fair Work Commission’s general manager, Murray Furlong, told Senate estimates last month that Dean would be barred from full bench work until she undertook training following the comments. 

He said Dean had disqualified herself from participating in disputes relating to workplace vaccinations, citing a personal bias.

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