By David Bates 

The reputation of the nation’s workplace relations tribunal – the rather Orwellian-named Fair Work Commission – could certainly do with a boost. 

Unfortunately, the quarterly statistics just released by the commission will do little to help it regain the community’s trust and respect.

Take the unfair dismissal statistics for instance. These relate to claims lodged against former employers by employees who believe their dismissal was ‘harsh, unjust, or unreasonable’. There were 3716 of these claims in just this single quarter alone. Yes, 3716.

That’s 3716 workers who felt so aggrieved by their dismissal that they decided they weren’t going to take it lying down. They completed a form, paid a filing fee, and lodged their complaint with the commission.

With so many applications lodged you might be thinking Australian employers are tyrants. Well, the statistics show they’re not.

Of all these claims, just 394 actually ended up being dealt with via formal arbitration before a Commissioner. Of all the claims lodged by Australia’s unfairly dismissed masses, a whopping 79% were ‘settled’ at the preliminary conciliation stage.

If you’re wondering why so many harsh, unjust, and unreasonably dismissed employees were willing to settle with their terrible former employers, the answer is simple: money. The commission’s largely telephone-based conciliation process is like one of those silly games we used to watch on The Price is Right: $500? Higher! $10,000? Lower! And on it goes.

There are some key unfair dismissal statistics the commission leaves out of its quarterly reports which I wish they’d include. Like how many of these ‘settled’ claims were initially lodged by employees who were not actually protected from unfair dismissal in the first place. (Yes, believe it or not, claims lodged by ineligible employees are listed for conciliation and are routinely ‘settled’ by frustrated and time-poor employers).

Statistics confirming the number of hours wasted by Australia’s employers responding to frivolous claims – as well as details of the average amount paid out by employers in ‘go-away’ money – would also make for very interesting reading.

Perhaps you think the commission itself has a more positive take on the state of unfair dismissal claims. They don’t. During a telephone conciliation I participated in earlier this week, the Fair Work Commission-appointed conciliator began by reading from a script designed to encourage us to reach a settlement regardless of the merits of the claim.

That script included informing us all that if the parties didn’t settle, the matter would proceed to arbitration where it could all take up large amounts of time and money, and where the outcome was uncertain.

Message to the commission: it’s not good enough.