Fair Work Commission staff report working longer hours due to pandemic increasing case load

The Fair Work Commission has been swamped with disputes since the COVID-19 pandemic began, recording a 25 per cent increase to its work load compared with the same period last year.

A recent survey investigating public servants working from home and undertaken by UNSW and CQUniversity found Fair Work staff, more than any other agency, reported their work hours had grown during the pandemic.

Fair Work Commission president Justice Iain Ross earlier this month said its substantive case load had grown 25 per cent compared with last year.

In an August 7 statement, Justice Ross reported a massive spike in the number of unfair dismissal claims, saying the commission had received 1900 more unfair dismissal claims than in the same period last year.

A Fair Work Commission spokesman said it had used several initiatives, including reallocating staff, to cope with the increase of unfair dismissal claims.

"At the beginning of the pandemic we also engaged a surge workforce consisting of staff from the Federal Court, Australian Government Solicitor and the Attorney-General's Department, as well as some contractors," the spokesman said.

The Commission has also had a significant increase in the number of applications relating to disputes involving employers standing down staff, having received 228 since March 16. In the whole of 2018-19, the commission only received 10 applications.

There was a 45.8 per cent increase in the number of other disputes, such as those arising from an enterprise bargaining agreement, which Justice Ross said was "symptomatic of the serious challenges facing many Australian workplaces".

On April 9 disputes relating to JobKeeper were added to the Fair Work Commission's jurisdiction and since then it has received nearly 640 disputes relating to the wage subsidy scheme. However, many of these fell outside the scope of the commission.

Community and Public Sector Union deputy national president Melissa Payne said the increased case loads had put greater demand on commission workers.

"We know that public sector workers have worked harder and longer to deliver for the community through the pandemic, and the Fair Work Commission is no different," Ms Payne said.

"Our members have told us that their workloads have increased due to COVID-19 industrial issues, and disputes."

Of the 28 per cent of public servants who told the UNSW-CQ University survey they worked longer hours during the pandemic, 37 per cent of those reported it was due to a greater workload.

The Fair Work Commission spokesman said he couldn't comment on the survey as the full results were yet to be published, but said, in general terms, the findings did not reflect the situation at the commission.

"We listen to and work closely with staff to ensure workloads are manageable and their wellbeing is maintained," he said.

"This has been particularly true during the COVID-19 period."

Significant numbers of Treasury and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade staff also told the UNSW and CQ University survey, which was conducted in partnership with the CPSU, that they were working longer hours than normal during the pandemic.

Unfair dismissal claims with the Fair Work Commission have skyrocketed, up 1900 compared with last year, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Picture: Shutterstock

Unfair dismissal claims with the Fair Work Commission have skyrocketed, up 1900 compared with last year, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Picture: Shutterstock

This story Fair Work Commission case load soars due to COVID-19 first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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