The Tribunal at the centre of our workplace relations system, the Fair Work Commission (the Commission), has been given a much more limited role in relation to workplace disputes than in the past. The good news is that working days lost to industrial disputes in Australia in current times are a small proportion of the level they were 30 years ago.1
The Commission's back-seat role is consistent with the importance of bargaining at both an enterprise and individual level as the principal determinant of employment terms and conditions. The prospect of harm being inflicted on employers by employees and unions through protected industrial action is all part of the plan under the Fair Work Act 2009 (the Act) scheme for enterprise bargaining.2
Nevertheless, the Commission still retains an important role in assisting employers, employees and unions (who want to be assisted) to achieve co-operative and productive workplace relations and to minimise disputes.3 The introduction of the Commission's 'New Approaches Program' is a bold initiative that is consistent with this function.4
Through the New Approaches Program, the Commission offers to assist organisations with adversarial and combative workplaces to achieve greater co-operation and collaboration. It seeks to do this by arming workplaces with the skills to resolve conflict before it escalates to formal disputes with the Commission.