All about conciliation

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Conciliation is a private and informal opportunity for all parties to discuss what occurred, listen to each other's side and have input into how the complaint can be resolved.

Conciliation conferences usually involve all parties participating in either a face-to-face meeting or a teleconference, which is run by one of our conciliators here at the Commission. They are impartial in this process and do not take sides, or make a judgement about whether or not discrimination or other conduct has occurred.

The Commission conciliator will arrange the conciliation conference and direct all parties to take part. Participation in a conciliation conference is compulsory under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991.

Resolving a complaint through conciliation at the Commission means that all parties can save the time and cost of having to go to a formal hearing.

If agreement is reached at the conciliation conference, it becomes legally binding after being signed by all parties and filed at either the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (for work-related complaints), or the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (for all other complaints).

If the complaint is not resolved through conciliation, the complainant has the option of progressing the matter to a tribunal hearing.

Who attends

A conciliator from the Commission will organise the conference and manage it.

The complainant/s (the person or people making the complaint) and those they are complaining about (the respondent/s) are required to participate in the conference.

If the respondent was at work when the complaint started, the employer will usually also be named as a respondent and be required to take part in the conference.

If the complainant or respondent is a company or organisation, their representative at the conference needs to be authorised to settle the complaint.

You can ask to bring a support person to give you moral support. However, your support person cannot speak at the conference. A support person should be someone who is not involved in the complaint. For example, witnesses or people who investigated the complaint cannot be your support person.

You can also ask to bring a legal representative or advocate to the conference to give you advice, if the conciliator agrees. This needs to be discussed with the conciliator in advance. Usually you will still have to speak for yourself to talk about what happened.

Please tell the conciliator well in advance if you need an interpreter, or have any other special needs for the conference.

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How the conference is conducted

How the conference is conducted depends on those involved and the nature of the complaint.

The conference can be with everyone meeting face-to-face, by teleconference, or with the conciliator talking to each party in separate rooms.

The estimated time for a conciliation conference is between three and four hours – however, it can be longer or shorter depending on the progress of the negotiations. Conciliation conferences can sometimes progress to post-conference negotiations.

All discussions at the conference are confidential and private. Even if the complaint progresses to a public hearing, the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission, or the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal cannot be told what was said at the conference.

An impartial conciliator at the Commission, with specialist knowledge of the Anti-Discrimination Act, will run the conciliation conference and assist the parties to reach their own agreement through negotiation.

The conciliator can help all parties think about their options without imposing a decision on the parties. The conciliator will also help all parties to understand their rights and responsibilities under the Act.

The conciliator's role is to decide when, where and how the conciliation conference is held and to ensure the process is fair to all parties. If you have any concerns about how the conciliation conference is being run, you should talk to the conciliator at the time of the conference.

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The conciliator’s role

The conciliator will:

  • contact all the parties before the conference to talk about the complaint and discuss the process;
  • help everyone discuss the complaint and work towards resolving it at the conference;
  • ask questions to help each side better understand each other;
  • explain the law, point out the strengths and weaknesses of the complaint and response and provide information about the process;
  • tell all parties about previous cases and what kind of outcomes are likely, if the complaint does not resolve and is decided by a tribunal; and
  • make suggestions or give options for resolving the complaint.

The conciliator will NOT:

  • determine whether there has been a breach of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991;
  • take sides; or
  • advise you what to offer, or ask for, to settle the complaint.

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What happens at the conference

Each conference is a little different and the conciliator will decide how the conference is run and ensure it is fair to all parties.

In most conciliation conferences the conciliator will:

  • ask the complainant/s to talk about what happened and how it has affected them;
  • ask the respondent/s to talk about what happened, what they did, and to respond to what the complainant/s said;
  • allow you to take a short break if needed to talk to your support person or legal representative, or just to collect your thoughts;
  • ask both sides to discuss how they can resolve the complaint;
  • speak to each person separately if this will help to resolve the complaint;
  • write up the agreement for everyone to sign if the they agree on how to settle the complaint. This agreement will be binding.
  • ask the complainant if they want their complaint referred to the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (for work-related complaints), or to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) (for all other complaints) for a public hearing, if there is no agreement.

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Preparing for the conference

Think carefully about all the points you want to make at the conference. You can make notes and take them to the conference.

Consider what the other party might say and be ready to explain, ask or answer any questions.

Think about how you want to resolve the complaint. Depending on the circumstances, complainants might seek an apology, a change in policy, staff training, compensation, a combination of these, or something else. Each situation is different.

The conciliator will call you prior to the conciliation conference to confirm conference arrangements and answer any questions you have.

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Possible complaint outcomes

It is up to the complainant and respondent to agree on the outcomes. The conciliator can assist them to resolve the complaint. We can make suggestions, but do not decide outcomes.

Outcomes from a conference vary. Common outcomes to resolve complaints include:

  • making an apology;
  • paying compensation for hurt feelings and lost wages;
  • organising training in the workplace so that everyone understands their rights and responsibilities.

There is no maximum compensation under law. Parties can agree on any lawful outcome that helps resolve a complaint.

You might find it useful to look at some outcomes which have been conciliated by us here at the Commission, or decided at a tribunal hearing. However, it is important to remember that each case is different, so even if the facts of your situation sounds similar to another, the impact of the discrimination and the outcome may be different.

If you are unsure about your options, discuss this with the conciliator when they call you prior to the conference , or get legal advice.

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Use this checklist to prepare for the conference.

  • Tell the conciliator if you want an interpreter or have other special needs.
  • Ask the conciliator if you want a support person or solicitor at the conference.
  • Decide the main points you want to make.
  • Consider the other party's side of the story.
  • Get legal, financial or other advice, if required.
  • Think about how you’d like to resolve the complaint.
  • Arrange your time so you are available for the conference for at least three hours.
  • Phone the conciliator if you have any questions or need more information.

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This information is a guide only and is not a substitute for legal advice.

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