An employer was within its rights to terminate a longstanding flexible working arrangement that enabled two employees to start and finish work an hour earlier than other members of their department so that they could collect their children from primary school each afternoon. The NSW Industrial Relations Commission found that aligning their hours with those of other employees in their department did not amount to an industrial injustice because it was done to improve operational efficiency.
The employees, who provided core maintenance painting requirements at Liverpool Hospital, had worked from 6am to 2:30pm (Monday to Friday) for approximately eight years. The arrangement allowed them to collect their primary school children, for whom they had carer’s responsibilities, at around 3pm each afternoon. In May 2014 they were informed that the flexible arrangement would only be allowed to continue for a further twelve months, after which their hours would be aligned to the 7am – 3:30pm hours worked by other employees in the Engineering Services Department.
Their union, the CFMEU, notified the NSW Industrial Relations Commission of a dispute pursuant to section 130 of the Industrial Relations Act 1996. The union opposed the hospital’s decision to standardise the employees’ working hours and claimed it was unreasonable to end a longstanding flexibility arrangement. It claimed the arrangement imposed no hardship on the employer and was consistent with the Public Health Service Employees Skilled Trades (State) Award, which provided that ordinary hours of work for day workers were 8 hours per day to be worked between 6 am and 6 pm, Monday to Friday.
The Industrial Relations Commission however dismissed the dispute. It found that the employer had sought to realign the two employees’ working hours to improve the operational efficiency of the Engineering Department and to reduce costs by working smarter and improving the organisation of work through improved supervision. A system of standardised hours within the Engineering Department would provide more time for managers to manage maintenance works and any efficiencies would be directed towards improved patient and clinical care. As such, the employer was not requiring the employees to work hours that were industrially unjust.