Rugg versus Ryan could be a victory for both sides

Spare a thought for Monique Ryan, the newly installed teal independent member for Kooyong. Ryan is locked in mediation with her staffer, Sally Rugg, over allegations that she expected Rugg to work “unreasonable hours”.

On the face of it, this looks like a typical case of an employee claiming to be unfairly exploited in a notoriously high-pressure workplace. The case tests what expectations an employer might reasonably have in regard to how much overtime an employee might reasonably provide. But dig a bit deeper and this may be more than just a test case about a little recognised piece of workplace law.

Kooyong MP Monique Ryan and her staffer, Sally Rugg, are in mediation over a dispute about working hours.

Justin McManus

The case is still at the mediation stage, and so it is not yet clear what arguments and evidence will be presented if it reaches trial. Both parties will have their motives and reasons. But one outcome could be that the case has benefits for both Rugg and Ryan. All of this is playing out in the public eye, providing both with the opportunity to rally support for their broader causes. So which is this – test case or showcase?

It’s true that in a highly competitive employment market – particularly in the pressure cooker world of politics – staffers are constantly expected to go “above and beyond”. There is often blurring of lines between the personal and professional. Who can forget the claims that federal MP Emma Husar asked her staff not only to mind her pooch but clean up after it? More than that Canberra staffers are expected to engage in work activities (in particular social media) almost 24/7. For some, the line between willing employee participation and unlawful employer exploitation becomes difficult to navigate.

As a seasoned political campaigner for GetUp and Rugg can hardly be described as a political ingenue. Presumably she has been exposed to the cut and thrust of political campaigns that are all-consuming for the participants. Regardless of whether her current legal claim has any merit, was she naive to the workplace reality of working for a federal member of parliament? Because if she wasn’t, this case could be her ticket to consolidate her rising-star status in the Labor union movement.

The plot thickens when you consider how Ryan might also benefit. The member for Kooyong – along with the other new crossbenchers – was initially blindsided when the Albanese government opportunistically announced a reduction in crossbench staff from eight to five. This left the crossbench ham-fisted as they publicly argued for maintenance of the staffing status quo.

The public are perennially allergic to political self-interest, so it wasn’t a good look for a group of new MPs who had been vocal about vested interests during their campaign for election. The public expect elected representatives to care more about their constituents’ working conditions than their own. But there’s no doubt Ryan wants those staff numbers back. Having the working hours of her employee thrust into the media spotlight helps that cause.

Meanwhile, a legal dispute about whether employer demands for overtime are reasonable or not has widespread consequences. Employer/employee relationships feed directly into every organisation’s reputation and culture. Big firms are concerned about culture. They know it drives employee loyalty. The most recent annual PwC global report highlights culture as the most important aspect of employee retention.

The corporate sector is battling the widespread perception that early career workers are “grist for the mill” of the corporate rat race. Highly competitive workplaces can foster unrealistic expectations that employees work excessive overtime. Equally, employees may feel the only way to get ahead is to acquiesce.

Getting the balance right for workplace expectations of both employers and employees is critical for the health of both workers and workplaces, including Parliament House. Which brings us to Anthony Albanese.

The prime minister might even get a part in this possible political plot-twister if he eventually capitulates and increases the crossbench staff headcount. This is increasingly likely given his full support for the Set the Standard report on parliamentary workplace reform. The report, by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, identified “long and irregular hours of work” as counterproductive to development of a positive parliamentary workplace culture. The Rugg vs Ryan case could provide cover for redirecting taxpayer funds to increase crossbench staffing and build political capital among the independents on the way through.

So, are Rugg and Ryan really at loggerheads or are both seizing the opportunity for self-interest outcomes – a notch in the workplace reform belt for Rugg and a return to the staffing status quo for Ryan? We won’t know unless the case’s specifics become public through the courts.

Either way, this case could have more winners than many realise.

Dr Katie Allen is a member of the Liberal Party and the former federal member for Higgins.

If you want to climb the political ladder in Canberra and change Australia, shouldn’t you expect 70-hour work weeks, or is something wrong with the democratic system that demands it? –

According to research, Australians are becoming dumber when it comes to financial literacy. Can you answer these five money questions? And if you can’t, what should you do? –

Greedy landlords are feeding the rental crisis: “Landlordism has gone wild in this country, enabled by real estate agents. The state government ignores the problem.” –

( Information from was used in this report. Also if you have any problem of this article or if you need to remove this articles, please email here and we will delete this immediately. [email protected] )

Leave a Comment

Share to...