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Getting it Right Unfair Dismissal or General Protections Exploring the Peter Ioannou v Northern Belting Services Pty Ltd Case: Understanding Applications under the Fair Work Act 2009


Navigating the complexities of Australian employment law can be daunting, particularly when it comes to understanding the intricate details of the Fair Work Act 2009. One case that provides valuable insights is the Peter Ioannou v Northern Belting Services Pty Ltd (U2014/5530). Here, we dissect this case, exploring its implications on amendments to applications made under s.394 (unfair dismissal) and whether they can proceed as general protections applications under s.365.


On 21 July 2014, the Fair Work Commission President referred two issues to a Full Bench. These issues centered around the potential for amendments to applications under s.394 to proceed as general protections applications under s.365. However, one of the applicants discontinued their application before the hearing date.

Key industry bodies including the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), the Australian Industry Group (AiG), and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) provided submissions on these issues.

Crux of the Matter:

The Full Bench needed to answer two key questions:

  1. Does the Commission have the authority to amend a s.394 application (unfair dismissal) to a s.365 application (general protections)?
  2. If such power exists, what considerations are relevant to deciding whether the power should be exercised?

Full Bench Findings:

The Full Bench determined that the power conferred by s.586 of the Act did not permit the Commission to amend an unfair dismissal application into a general protections application. This conclusion was based on s.586’s nature of power and the restrictions on making multiple applications under s.725.

Notably, the Full Bench stressed that an unfair dismissal application differs fundamentally from a general protections application, even if both arise from the same circumstances involving an employee’s dismissal.

Further Implications:

The Full Bench also examined the restrictions imposed by s.725 of the Act, which prevents a person from bringing multiple actions in relation to the same dismissal. They noted that an applicant must not make a s.365 application unless the unfair dismissal application has been withdrawn, lacks jurisdiction, or fails because the dismissal was a case of genuine redundancy (s.729(1)(b)).

In summary, should an applicant wish to pursue a general protections application instead of an unfair dismissal application, they would need to withdraw the latter and file a general protections application. This requires meeting the procedural requirements and seeking an extension of time under s.366 of the Act.

This case clarified the limitations and parameters within which applicants and the Commission must operate under the Fair Work Act 2009. It underscored that the Act doesn’t permit the conversion of an unfair dismissal application to a general protections application.

The case remains a pivotal reference for practitioners and applicants alike in the field of Australian employment law.

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