A recent Federal Court decision has provided a rare ruling on reasonable additional hours of work finding that a migrant worker being required to work 50 hours per week was unreasonable additional hours.
In Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union v Dick Stone Pty Ltd  FCA 512 it was held that Sydney’s largest meat wholesaler, Dick Stone Pty Ltd, was found to have breached sections 62 and 125 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), in addition to clauses 5, 31.2(d), 34.2 and 36.1(a) of the Meat Industry Award 2010, for unreasonably requiring its employee to work in excess of 38 hours.
General legislative provisions
Most employment contracts provide that an employee may be required to work additional hours to perform their work duties where such additional hours are of a reasonable nature. This coincides with section 62 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), which expresses that an employer must not request or require the weekly hours of a full-time employee to exceed 38 hours unless the additional hours are reasonable.
There are several considerations determining the reasonable nature of additional hours. As per section 62(2) Act, the following must be considered:
- any risk to employee health and safety from working the additional hours;
- the employee’s personal circumstances, including family responsibilities;
- the needs of the workplace or enterprise in which the employee is employed;
- whether the employee is entitled to receive overtime payments, penalty rates or other compensation for, or a level of remuneration that reflects an expectation of, working additional hours;
- any notice given by the employer of any request or requirement to work the additional hours;
- any notice given by the employee of his or her intention to refuse to work the additional hours;
- the usual patterns of work in the industry, or the part of an industry, in which the employee works;
- the nature of the employee’s role, and the employee’s level of responsibility;
- whether the additional hours are in accordance with averaging terms included under section 63 in a modern award or enterprise agreement that applies to the employee, or with an averaging arrangement agreed to by the employer and employee under section 64; and
- any other relevant matter.
In 2016, Dick Stone Pty Ltd employed a migrant, who had arrived from Ghana just 3 weeks prior. Upon the commencement of his employment, the employee was provided with documentation including a ‘employment form’ & ‘employment commencement pack’ (Employment Contract). The Employment Contract distinguished the employee’s ‘ordinary hours’ as 50 hours per week, yet failed to refer to overtime, or mention the relevant award.
Dick Stone Pty Ltd argued that while the employee did not receive traditional overtime payments for the additional hours he worked per week, he did receive a ‘blended rate’ which incorporated overtime.
The employee expressed that he was simply instructed to work from 2:00am to 11:30am Monday to Friday, and from 2:00am to 7:00am on Saturdays. Unsurprisingly, he described the work hours as ‘very draining and tiring’. Emphasising his vulnerable situation of only living in Australia for a mere few weeks and having no knowledge of Australian law or employee rights at the time “he insisted that, if he were given a choice, he would not have chosen to work those hours”.
Justice Katzmann highlighted there were several of deficiencies in the Employment Contract particularly given that none of the documents mentioned what the employee would be remunerated. Ultimately, although a 50-hour week “aligned with Dick Stone’s business needs”, Justice Katzmann found that this did not necessarily mean the additional hours were reasonable in the worker’s case as he was not given a choice. As such, in considering the factors under section 62(2) of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), including the work health and safety risks associated with long shifts in a role where an employee was to use knives, Justice Katzmann held that it was unreasonable to require the employee to perform 12 extra hours per week.
This case highlighted that regardless of whether an employee freely agrees to an employment contract which establishes a requirement to work additional hours, this will not deem those additional hours to be reasonable in each individual worker’s case. As such, in light of the decision in Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union v Dick Stone Pty Ltd, employers should:
- Employ greater consideration in assessing the criteria for reasonable additional hours in respect of each individual employee’s position.
- Carefully balance the business needs, against the employees’ additional hours.
- Conduct regular risks assessments of the hours worked by each employee.
- Ensure correct processes are maintained, particularly upon the commencement of an employee’s employment, including the provision of requisite and relevant documentation such as the Fair Work Information Statement and reference to any applicable Modern Award.
- Not rely on an employment contract as the basis for requiring an employee to perform additional hours of work.