Fixed-term worker fails to challenge employer's decision not to extend contract

Employer cites changes in operational requirements to justify non-extension

Fixed-term worker fails to challenge employer's decision not to extend contract

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) recently dealt with a worker’s claim that he was unfairly dismissed after his employer failed to extend his fixed-term contract.

On November 17, 2023, the worker initiated proceedings at the FWC, alleging unfair dismissal from his role at Carers NT Limited. Walton contended that his dismissal violated the general protection provisions of the Fair Work Act.

Dennis Walton was employed by Carers NT from June 2020 until October 2023. Initially hired as a casual worker, he later transitioned to a part-time support worker under three successive fixed-term contracts.

Walton's employment ceased on October 31, 2023, following the conclusion of his last fixed-term contract. The critical question is whether Carers NT's actions constituted a dismissal.

‘Extension’ of contract

Carers NT, a charitable organization, provides aged care services in the Northern Territory. Walton's contracts were based on Commonwealth Home Support Program funding grant agreements.

Walton worked for Carers NT from June 2020 until October 2023. The first contract he had was for almost 12 months (16 August 2021 to 31 July 2022), and the second was for exactly 12 months (1 August 2022 to 31 July 2023).

The final contract was described as an “extension” of the second contract and was for three months (1 August 2023 to 31 October 2023). In early October 2023, Walton was told that his employment “would conclude at the end of the last fixed-term contract.”

The final fixed-term contract was shortened due to uncertainties regarding service reallocations. According to records, Walton understood that his engagement could end at the expiration of the fixed-term contract.

Walton expressed dissatisfaction with Carers NT's decision not to offer further contracts beyond October 2023. He suspected that this decision was influenced by performance issues and his co-workers’ behaviour complaints.

Contract not renewed

Meanwhile, Carers NT cited operational requirements and structural changes across various positions as the basis for not renewing Walton's contract.

Carers NT added that the decision to not offer Walton a further fixed-term contract was made after a review of several other staff changes within the aged care structure in their offices. It said that those changes were applied across numerous positions, including Management, Leadership and Support Workers.

The employer said the review was underway when Walton’s second fixed term contract was finishing, adding that he was “was told about the review” on 1 August 2023 and because of the review, “he was only offered a three-month extension at that time.”

Carers NT said that it wrote to Walton in early October after the review concluded to advise him that his employment would finish at the end of October in accordance with his final contract.

Was he dismissed?

Upon reviewing the entire employment relationship, the FWC determined that the final three-month extension reflected a mutual agreement between Walton and Carers NT regarding the end of his employment after October 31, 2023. As such, Walton's claim of unfair dismissal was not substantiated.

The FWC found that Walton's employment did not end at the employer's initiative, adding that there was no evidence that supported the exclusion of Walton's claim.

As Walton was not dismissed from his employment, his general protections claim could not proceed. It then dismissed the worker’s application.

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