Reacting to stakeholder concerns and political pressures, the Fair Work Commission has appreciably sped up enterprise agreement approval processes. Almost mirroring recent failed time-limit legislative moves, the FWC is now settling an impressive 80% of approval applications inside three weeks.
This contrasts starkly with the situation three years ago when approving a ‘simple’ agreement took more than a month and everything else close to three months – on average. In some rare circumstances, by the time the agreement was approved, it had passed its expiry date. But on-time performance has been considerably improved in the last year or so.
And the efficiency is not stopping there. Already part of the documentation necessary for approval applications has been developed as an on-line lodgement service for a pilot study group. Soon this will be expanded to the more complex documentation, with capacity for multiple users (e.g. an agent and an employer) to access the document as it is progressively compiled on-line. It will have prompts to users to ensure all questions are answered and alert mechanisms to assist compliance requirements.
The value of this increased efficiency is twofold; firstly, the uncertainty and stress that can arise from waiting long periods for an approval is diminished and secondly, the sooner the agreement is approved, the sooner its benefits can flow to the parties.
Underlying issues about bargaining generally, especially the application of the better off overall test to each and every employee regardless of the global benefits to the workforce, remain. But there is no doubt an efficient approval process is one positive move the FWC can make to those who remained engaged in the system, and these are welcome steps in the right direction.