Rugg’s lawyer promotes workers’ right to switch off ahead of court showdown

The high-profile lawyer representing activist Sally Rugg in her legal dispute with her boss, independent MP Monique Ryan, pushed for the right to disconnect beyond the 38-hour week ahead of a Federal Court showdown between the pair about overtime.

Maurice Blackburn’s Josh Bornstein, who bowed out of a Senate tilt for Labor ahead of last year’s federal election, on Thursday tweeted “Excessive work hours and demands is a growing issue.”

Maurice Blackburn’s Josh Bornstein is one of the lawyers representing Sally Rugg.

Simon Schluter

“Under the Fair Work Act, an employer is prohibited from requiring or requesting that an employee work an unreasonable number of hours in addition to a standard 38-hour week,” Bornstein’s social media post reads, linking to an article about the right to disconnect.

The article, syndicated by this masthead from explores workplace laws across Europe and Africa that enable employees to avoid workplace communications once their day ends.

That workplace entitlement – which white-collar unions such as the Finance Sector Union are fighting for, and some state public servants have achieved – gives workers the right to avoid answering phone calls and emails outside work hours.

Bornstein, who declined to comment on the tweet ahead of the hearing, is a director at The Australia Institute think tank, which in November published a report suggesting the entitlement be enshrined in national employment law.

Labor’s Tony Sheldon, one of the government’s loudest voices on industrial issues, said late last year the policy “should be part of the mix in the conversation” for workplace legislation to come forward this year.

Greens leader Adam Bandt said in December his party – which negotiated changes to Labor’s Secure Jobs, Better Pay bill in return for its support – would use its numbers in the Senate to pursue a “right to disconnect” in Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke’s second industrial relations package slated for 2023.

“One of the big pressures is the requirement many employers have that people be available out of hours to check phones, respond to emails, answer text messages. It’s bleeding into people’s lives, and it’s time to stop,” he said at the time.

Rugg, a former head who was recruited as Ryan’s chief-of-staff in July, is trying to stop the Kooyong MP from firing her following a dispute about working hours.

Sally Rugg has lodged Federal Court proceedings against her boss, independent MP Monique Ryan.

Nick Moir

A Federal Court hearing is set down in Melbourne on Friday. Both Rugg and Ryan have declined to comment ahead of the hearing.

Rugg claims in court documents she was denied her workplace right of refusing “to work additional hours that were unreasonable” resulting in the Commonwealth of Australia “engaging in hostile conduct in the workplace”.

Rugg alleges in the documents that Ryan was the “principal actor” in the above allegations, and is calling for an injunction to stop Ryan from terminating her employment. She is still employed pending the hearing.

The Commonwealth and Ryan are defending the case and deny the claims made by Rugg.

The case lodged against Ryan and the Commonwealth – Rugg’s technical employer – has reignited debate within the crossbench over the Albanese government’s decision last year to reduce the number of staff allocated to independent MPs from four to one.

Rugg raised the issue of advisers’ unreasonable workload at multiple meetings with other crossbench advisers, according to two sources.

With Paul Sakkal

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