COVID-19 led to 40% increase in unfair dismissal applications, FWC says

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The Australian Fair Work Commission (FWC) saw a 40% uptick in unfair dismissal applications between March and June 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic drove job losses across the country.

According to the FWC’s annual report for the 2019-20 financial year, there was also an increase in stand-down disputes during this three-month period.

In the report’s introduction, FWC president Justice Iain Ross said “2019-20 has been a busy and challenging year for the Commission, as it has been for the Australian community generally”.

“The COVID‑19 pandemic has affected many aspects of our lives and has brought significant changes to workplaces and the economy.”

In her overview, FWC general manager Bernadette O’Neill revealed the commission saw an 8% net increase in total applications in the 2019-20 financial year.

“This is largely the result of dramatic shifts in the last quarter,” she said.

Between March and June 2020, the commission received 20% more applications than in the same period in the previous year.

Unfair dismissal applications increased by 40%.

Applications dealing with stand-down disputes, varying enterprise agreements, and general protections claims involving dismissal, also spiked in this time, the report notes.

However, there was a significant decrease in applications to approve enterprise agreements, for right-of-entry permits, and in relation to industrial action.

The final quarter of the financial year also saw the introduction of a new function for the FWC to deal with JobKeeper disputes.

A total of 544 JobKeeper applications were lodged, and 518 were finalised.

However, 363 of the total applications lodged were not actually related to the JobKeeper provisions, and were either dismissed or withdrawn.

Of those that were related to JobKeeper, the most common concerns related to stand-down disputes, with 72 applications, or the days and times of work, with 68 applications. A further 61 applications focused on paid annual leave.

During the 2019-20 financial year, the FWC also saw a 12% increase in the number of hearings and conferences. Almost half of these were held via telephone or videoconference, compared to 30% in the 2018-19 financial year.

Unfair dismissal claims remained the most common type of application, accounting for 49% of all applications.

In total throughout the year, the FWC received 16,558 unfair dismissal applications. The next most common type of application was general protections involving dismissal, with 4,823 in total.

Agreement approvals accounted for 3,795 applications and dispute resolution accounted for 2,255.

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