Fair Work Commission - Enterprise Agreements & Decisions

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) plays a central role in shaping Australian workplace relations. This guide empowers you to understand the Fair Work Commission, ensuring compliance with employment laws and fostering a fair and productive work environment.

What is the Fair Work Commission?

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) is Australia's independent national workplace relations tribunal. It plays an important role in upholding, interpreting, and enforcing Australian employment laws – especially the Fair Work Act 2009. This independent body has the power to perform various functions related to the workplace.

These include setting the national minimum wage, creating and updating Modern Awards (which outline minimum employment conditions across different industries and occupations), reviewing and approving enterprise agreements negotiated directly between employers and employees, and resolving workplace disputes such as unfair dismissals, bullying and harassment, and disagreements over agreements or entitlements under the National Employment Standards.

The Fair Work Commission operates similarly to a court, hearing claims and disputes, and issuing binding decisions. Its primary goal is to promote fairness, productivity, and positive relationships within Australian workplaces, protecting the rights of both employees and employers.

Why is the Fair Work Commission important for businesses?

Understanding the Fair Work Commission and its functions is essential for any Australian business, for the following reasons:

  • Non-compliance with Fair Work Commission regulations, awards, or agreements can lead to financial penalties and damage your business reputation.
  • Understanding Fair Work Commission principles helps create fair and productive working environments, minimising the potential for costly and disruptive disputes.
  • When facing situations like unfair dismissal claims or agreement negotiations, knowledge of the Fair Work Commission processes allows you to make informed decisions.
  • The Fair Work Commission regularly reviews minimum wages and modern awards. Staying aware of these changes helps ensure your business remains compliant.

The Fair Work Commission is a foundation of Australian employment law. As an employer, understanding the Fair Work Commission's roles and functions isn't just a good idea – it's essential for minimising your business risks, maintaining compliance, and ensuring a fair working environment.

Key responsibilities of the Fair Work Commission

The Fair Work Commission has broad responsibilities that shape the Australian workplace landscape. Let's break down its core responsibilities.

Maintaining Workplace Standards

The Fair Work Commission establishes the safety net of employment conditions in Australia. This includes setting the national minimum wage, which is reviewed annually, ensuring all workers have a base level of income. The Fair Work Commission also creates and updates Modern Awards. These industry-specific documents outline essential employment conditions like minimum pay rates, working hours, various types of leave, overtime, and allowances.

Approving Enterprise Agreements

Enterprise agreements are negotiated directly between employers and employees (often with the involvement of unions). The Fair Work Commission reviews these agreements to ensure they meet the legal requirements of the Fair Work Act and, importantly, offer better conditions than the relevant Modern Award.

Resolving Unfair Dismissals

The Fair Work Commission provides an avenue for employees who believe they've been dismissed unfairly. It's important for employers to understand that strict processes and time limits apply regarding unfair dismissal claims. The Fair Work Commission initially attempts to resolve disputes through conciliation. If this fails, the case may move to a formal hearing where the FWC will issue a binding determination.

Workplace Dispute Resolution

The Fair Work Commission goes beyond unfair dismissals, helping settle various workplace conflicts. This includes disputes related to:

Area of Dispute Descritpion
Bullying and Harassment Complaints concerning workplace bullying, harassment, or victimisation. This includes repeated, unreasonable behaviours that create a risk to health and safety.
General Protections Disputes related to adverse action taken for a protected reason (for example, exercising a workplace right, taking leave, or being temporarily absent for illness).
Agreement Disputes Disagreements over the interpretation or application of workplace agreements, such as Modern Awards or Enterprise Agreements.

How the Fair Work Commission works

The Fair Work Commission employs several key processes to fulfill its responsibilities in the Australian workplace. Two of the most important processes are conciliation and arbitration.


Conciliation is an informal dispute resolution process where a neutral third party, a conciliator from the Fair Work Commission, assists both sides in a workplace dispute to reach a mutually agreeable solution. The conciliator acts as a facilitator, guiding the discussion, clarifying issues, and helping both parties explore potential compromises. The goal is to reach a resolution without the need for a formal hearing.


If conciliation fails to resolve a dispute, the Fair Work Commission may move to arbitration. This is a more formal process resembling a court hearing. A Fair Work Commission Member hears evidence from both parties and ultimately issues a binding decision to resolve the matter.

Fair Work Commission Decisions

The Fair Work Commission makes its decisions publicly available online. These decisions offer valuable insights into how the Fair Work Commission interprets Australian workplace laws and establishes precedents for future cases. Each decision provides a detailed outline of the case. This includes the key facts, arguments presented by the parties involved, the relevant legislation considered, and ultimately, the Fair Work Commission's reasoning behind the final ruling.

Conciliation seeks a mutually agreed resolution, while arbitration results in a binding decision by the Fair Work Commission. Understanding these FWC decisions offers valuable insights for both employers and employees, clarifying how workplace laws are interpreted and applied in different situations.

Fair Work Commission - Employment Compass

What is the process for Unfair Dismissal Claims?

Unfair dismissal claims represent a significant portion of the Fair Work Commission's caseload. It's important for employers to understand this process, as it differs from the general perception of "unfair." The FWC defines an unfair dismissal as one that is "harsh, unjust, or unreasonable." This goes beyond simply having a valid reason for termination. The Fair Work Commission also scrutinises the manner in which the dismissal was carried out.

Procedural Fairness

The Fair Work Commission focuses on three key aspects of procedural fairness:

  • Were the reasons for dismissal communicated to the employee with sufficient detail?
  • Did the employee have a genuine opportunity to address the allegations against them?
  • Did the employer genuinely consider the employee's response before making the final decision to terminate?

The Fair Work Commission expects employers to demonstrate that they made all reasonable attempts to resolve the issues that led to the dismissal before resorting to termination of employment.

Conciliation Process

In an unfair dismissal claim, the Fair Work Commission offers an initial conciliation process. The primary goal of conciliation is to help the employer and employee reach a mutually agreeable resolution without the need for a formal, court-like hearing.

An independent conciliator from the Fair Work Commission facilitates the conciliation. It's important to understand that the conciliator does not represent either the employer or employee. Instead, their role is to guide the discussion, explore the core issues of the dispute, challenge expressed viewpoints, suggest possible alternative solutions, and help both parties realistically evaluate the potential outcomes of different courses of action.

If the conciliation is unsuccessful, the case may proceed to a formal conference or hearing, similar to a court proceeding.  It is generally in the best interest of both parties to resolve the matter before reaching this stage, as hearings often involve legal representation and extensive preparation.

Protecting your business

The Fair Work Commission plays a vital role in shaping Australian workplace law. As an employer, understanding the FWC is essential for maintaining a fair workplace and minimizing the risk of costly disputes or penalties. Staying informed about workplace regulations and FWC processes empowers you to proactively manage employment issues and navigate potential challenges effectively.

Employment Compass offers expert guidance and support in understanding the Fair Work Commission and ensuring your business stays compliant with workplace laws. We provide:

  • Clarity on Fair Work Commission rulings and their implications for your business
  • Strategies for proactive compliance to minimise risk
  • Assistance with navigating Fair Work Commission procedures if a dispute arises

Don't leave your business exposed. Contact our 24/7 Employer Helpline at 1300 144 002 for personalised advice and ongoing support when managing Australian employment law.

Frequently asked questions

What is the role of the Fair Work Commission in Australian workplaces?

The Fair Work Commission is Australia's national workplace relations tribunal. It plays a crucial role in upholding employment laws, setting minimum standards (like wages and conditions), approving workplace agreements, and resolving disputes such as unfair dismissals.

Where can I find Fair Work Commission agreements that apply to my industry?

The Fair Work Commission has a dedicated "Agreements" section on their website. You can search for existing agreements or find information on how to create and submit a new enterprise agreement for approval.

How can I access past Fair Work Commission decisions?

The FWC maintains a searchable database of its decisions on their website. This can be a valuable resource for understanding how they interpret workplace laws and make rulings.

What requirements must a Fair Work Commission enterprise agreement meet?

Any enterprise agreement must provide better overall terms and conditions for employees compared to the relevant Modern Award. The Fair Work Commission reviews and approves agreements to ensure this standard is met.

As an employer, what are my key obligations under the Fair Work Commission?

Your primary obligations include complying with the National Employment Standards, relevant Modern Awards or enterprise agreements, and understanding Fair Work Commission procedures for handling issues like unfair dismissal claims. Staying informed about workplace regulations minimises the risk of disputes and penalties.

Where can I get reliable advice on the Fair Work Commission and ensure my business is compliant?

Consulting with organisations specialising in employment law, such as Employment Compass, provides expertise on Fair Work Commission rulings, compliance strategies, and assistance with managing workplace issues.

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