MP accused of considering termination only because employee questioned working conditions
The Federal Court of Australia dealt with the case of a parliamentary staffer who asked the court to stop her employer from dismissing her.
She said the MP only considered termination because she questioned her “unreasonable” working conditions.
The employee previously worked in advocacy and campaigning, including roles at GetUp, change.org, the campaign for marriage equality and with Australians for a Murdoch Royal Commission. She was then introduced to the MP around May or June 2022, shortly after his election.
Around June 2022, Prime Minister Albanese announced that under the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984, independent MPs would be entitled only to one parliamentary staffer. Previously, they had been entitled to four.
A month after, the employee was offered a contract of employment for a position described as “chief of staff” but classified as “adviser (non-government).”
The employee said the role required her to work for “approximately 70 to 80 hours per week and included regular travel to and from Canberra and accompanying the MP to media appearances.”
Meanwhile, the MP argued that “working hours were long during parliamentary sitting weeks” but said, “the hours were not as long as the employee alleged, and were relatively flexible during non-sitting weeks.”
The parties started to disagree about work hours and responsibilities around September 2022, with the employee claiming “hostile conduct” in the workplace.
After a few more months of tension, the employee filed for relief before the federal court since the MP “decided to dismiss” her.
She said the MP considered dismissal since she “exercised or proposed to exercise various workplace rights in relation to working unreasonable additional hours.”
She said she had the “right to make complaints and enquiries in relation to her employment.”
HRD previously reported on a case that dealt with a 50-hour workweek. It was found to be “unreasonable,” and the employer was ordered to pay $90,000. In another case, the federal court ruled on a worker’s dismissal case after getting fired over a “political post” on LinkedIn.
In this case, the court found that the employee’s opinion that her work was “unreasonable” was allegedly contrary to “how much she enjoys being in the parliamentary environment.” The court noted her affidavit, which said:
“I would be especially willing to work to restore a professional and productive relationship because of the non-financial benefits that go with my role. As a chief of staff, I receive briefings from the government and agencies on proposed legislation and many other high-profile issues, and I get to work with [the MP] to formulate policy positions on those issues.”
“I also get to attend negotiations… and see how parliamentarians prepare for and perform for things like that. I’m not aware of any other job where one gets opportunities like that.”
“As I mention above, I aspire to one day be a parliamentarian… My ability to assist the movement (and pursue my dream of being a parliamentarian), would be irreparably affected if the termination were to proceed,” she added.
In its decision, the court said that the employee was not able to identify the circumstances that would prove that her employment conditions were “unreasonable,” so it rejected the employee’s request to restrain the employer’s termination order.
However, it said it would refer the employee’s claims for case management if they would bring the matter to trial.
The decision was handed down on March 7.