Public holidays: Landmark Federal Court ruling means employers can’t order employees to work – PerthNow

Public holidays: Landmark Federal Court ruling means employers can’t order employees to work - PerthNow

Public holidays will never be the same.

Those of us accustomed to working while our family and friends celebrate a much-needed day off have had a huge win, thanks to a landmark Federal Court ruling.

The court’s three judges have determined that it is unfair for an employer to command people to work public holidays and that the Fair Work Act only allows for bosses to request people work on those days.

The news comes just days out from the Easter long weekend, which includes three public holidays: Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday.

The Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union took a business within mining giant BHP to court on behalf of 85 employees who worked a 12.5 hour shift at the Daunia Mine in Queensland on Christmas Day and Boxing Day in 2019 — without receiving any additional remuneration.

The union appealed the decision of a primary judge to dismiss the action in the Federal Court, winning their case.

The union argued that by requiring the workers to work on a public holiday, their employer had contravened the Fair Work Act, Section 114 (2) of which allows people to refuse an employer’s request to work if it is not a reasonable request or the refusal is reasonable.

The judges ruled that the Fair Work Act only allows bosses to request people work on such days, saying there was an “inherent power imbalance that exists between employers and employees”.

“By virtue of this imbalance, employees will often feel compelled and not understand that they have the capacity to refuse a request that is unreasonable or where their own refusal is reasonable.

“The requirement that there be a ‘request’ rather than a unilateral command prompts the capacity for discussion, negotiation and a refusal.”

An employee may “refuse the request (and take the day off) if the employee has reasonable grounds for doing so”, the judgement added.

Gemma Acton, 7NEWS Finance Editor, said the ruling would now apply to all workplaces and override whatever was written in existing contracts or agreements.

“It could have really big implications for staff and industries that often keep going through public holidays like hospitality or healthcare,” Acton said.

The remediation and penalty following the decision is yet to be determined.


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