February 28, 2017


A new streamlined system for the South Australian Employment Tribunal (SAET) will be introduced from 1 July 2017. It will increase the spectrum of employment related cases that can be heard by SAET.

The current set-up

The Fair Work Commission, which oversees the national workplace relations system, can hear cases that concern employment in the national system. South Australian workers are employed in the national system unless they are employed by the South Australian Government or their employment is covered by a South Australian industrial award.

Currently, for workers in the South Australian system, there are many bodies that have the power to hear and decide employment related issues. In fact, some cases are heard in a range of different tribunals because one case can cover a number of different tribunal jurisdictions.

South Australian employment related cases can be heard in tribunals that include:

  • Industrial Relations Court and Commission.
  • Magistrates Court for criminal matters concerning industrial offences.
  • Magistrates, District and Supreme Courts for disputes over employment contracts.
  • Teachers Appeal Board and Classification Review.
  • Equal Opportunity Tribunal.

There is much inefficiency in the system – delays, expense and having to argue cases with the same set of facts in more than one tribunal.

The South Australian Government has recognised these issues and is now attempting to create a “one stop shop” for employment-related cases.

The changes

SAET will absorb many of the functions of these other bodies and will be able to deal with a range of cases including:

  • Underpayment of wages claims and unfair dismissal claims.
  • Dust diseases claims (for example, asbestos exposure in the workplace).
  • Criminal proceedings for employment–related summary offences (not punishable by imprisonment), for example fraud involving $2,500 or less.
  • Criminal proceedings for employment-related minor indictable offences (offences where the possible prison term is 5 years or less), for example significant property damage, aggravated assault or serious criminal trespass.
  • Disputes over contracts of employment, for example failure to pay reasonable notice.
  • Damages claims for workplace injuries.
  • Appeals against decisions made about the employment of or disciplining public school teachers.
  • Discrimination complaints that have not been resolved in the Equal Opportunity Commission.
  • Decisions about termination or transfer of police officers.
  • Employment decisions concerning public sector employees.

What does it mean?

The changes have the potential to introduce greater efficiency to the employment legal system in South Australia. But at this stage, it is difficult to tell whether the new system will streamline the way cases are heard, because different jurisdictions have different powers to award compensation, make orders and impose fines or prison terms.

Currently, the Government is working on various pieces of new legislation to promote greater efficiency – it will be a complex process and only time will tell how well the system works.

What is clear, though, is that clients will be benefitted by a lawyer who has experience in working across a range of legal areas so that they can properly represent clients in SAET, no matter what the issue.

With lawyers practising in every major legal area, Websters Lawyers is ideally placed to provide such representation. If you have questions about how the changes will affect you, or if your employment has been impacted by legal issues, we can help. Contact us today for a free first interview.