In a new court ruling, bosses must now ask their employees if they want to work public holidays before rostering them on.
The ruling will override whatever is written into staff’s current contracts.
The changes come after The Federal Court of Australia discovered a leg of mining giant BHP had violated the Fair Work Act by making Christmas Day and Boxing Day mandatory workdays.
85 employees for BHP labour provider OS MCAP at Daunia Mine in Queensland were forced to work during those dates without public holiday rates.
The judges ruled that the Fair Work Act only allows bosses to request employees work on public holidays.
“The intended mischief the (Fair Work Act) provision confronts is the inherent power imbalance that exists between employers and employees,” the court ruled.
“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.”
Under the new ruling, an employee is able to “refuse the request (and take the day off) if the employee has reasonable grounds for doing so”, the judgement added.
The shock decision will also impact other companies that rely on shift workers.
Speaking to the Australian Financial Review, mining and Energy Union president Tony Mahler said the industry’s approach to working public holidays needed to change.
“The right for workers to spend time with friends and family at important times of the year was traditionally respected by mining companies,” he said.
“It is common practice for employers in the mining industry to require employees to work on public holidays when they fall during their roster hours.
“This practice has been found to contravene the NES and employers will need to adapt and provide workers with a genuine choice that allows them the right to refuse.”
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This article first appeared on Over60.