Freightliner has right to alter shifts, FWC states

Commission says 'unplanned events' justify changes to shift times for rail employees

Freightliner has right to alter shifts, FWC states
The Fair Work Commission has backed Freightliner


Freightliner Australia Coal Haulage has the right to call forward or push back the commencement time of an employee’s shift without notice under its current enterprise agreement, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) states.

The Australian Rail, Tram and Bus Industry Union (RTBU) registered a case against Freightliner in relation to whether the company’s enterprise agreement was still applicable in circumstances where it brought forward the start time of an employee’s shift by up to two hours or delay the start by up to four hours.

The union demanded that the company must inform its employees of shift changes during the "advice periods" set out in the enterprise agreement.

However, the company argued that shift changes were necessary in situations when the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) makes changes to the train timetable for reasons such as train failure or breakdown, lower track speed limits or congestion on the network.

The commission accepts this argument and states that such "unplanned events give rise, from time to time, to a need on Freightliner’s part to lift up or lay back the commencement time for employees".

It states that the "purpose of the lift up [early shift] and lay back [delayed shift] provisions in the enterprise agreement is to enable Freightliner to deal with, and manage efficiently, immediate issues in the workplace, most of which are outside the control of Freightliner".

While the commission acknowledges the advice periods stated in the enterprise agreement, commissioner Tony Saunders says in his view a "reasonable person" would remain contactable at all times prior to the start of their shift so that the company is able to prepone or delay the commencement under extenuating circumstances.

The commission also addresses the union’s concerns about fatigue risks associated with employees having their shifts lifted.

It states that the company is bound by occupational health and safety legislation to make sure that its employees work in a "safe workplace", adding that these obligations include "ensuring employees are not rostered to work in a way that could expose them to an unreasonable risk of fatigue".

The FWC states that Freightliner does not have the right to change an employee’s shift if it could potentially result in fatigue-related risks.

It adds that an employee whose shift was moved under such circumstances will have the right to "raise a dispute or take other action to deal with the issue".

Utlimately, commissioner Saunders rules that Freightliner had the right to lift up the start of an employee’s shift by up to two hours or lay it back by up to four hours without giving notice.

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