It’s confusing that we have 2 workplace relations regulators in Australia with very similar titles.

They both have different roles though and it’s important that HR people understand their different functions.

The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO)

Generally, the FWO makes employers comply with the Fair Work Act, awards and registered agreements. They also provide advice to both employers and employees on award interpretation, rates of pay and workplace entitlements.

Typically, the FWO:

  • helps resolve workplace issues around compliance with possible breaches of employment law, awards and registered agreements
  • seeks penalties for any breaches of the above
  • enforces orders made by the Fair Work Commission
  • educates employers and employees on employment law, workplace conditions and the rights and obligations of both parties.

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) (previously Fair Work Australia)

The FWC is the independent workplace relations tribunal working across all states and territories of Australia. Its main function is to maintain a safety net of minimum wages and employment conditions.

The FWC also:

  • hears unfair dismissal and unlawful termination applications
  • resolves general protection claims
  • investigates bullying and harassment cases
  • approves registered agreements and makes changes to pay and entitlements in awards and registered agreements
  • makes decisions about industrial action and union activity.