In 2015 employees in the Qantas customer contact centre in Auckland were working rotating rosters of three lots of six days in a row, then a week of five days for 12 weeks. To address the work-life balance concerns that employees had with the roster, including exhaustion and difficulties arranging childcare, Qantas introduced a preference-based roster of five fixed days in a row followed by two days off. However, a year after the fixed day roster was implemented, the airline proposed a change back to the rotating roster, this time rotating every nine weeks. Despite the employees’ rejection of the proposal, Qantas went ahead with the change.
In the Employment Relations Authority Qantas argued that the change back was just a trial. However, the Authority found that suggestion was not supported by the evidence, and no such information had been provided to the employees. It also found that Qantas had unreasonably refused to attend mediation to try to resolve the dispute before unilaterally reverting back to the rotating roster. The Authority directed the parties to attend mediation, and Qantas was ordered to pay each of the named applicants $6,000 as a penalty for breach of the collective agreement under which they were employed.
While New Zealand employment law recognises that an employer has the right to decide the commercial and operational requirements of its business (“management prerogative”), the Employment Relations Act 2000 also requires fairness and good faith. Although it can be difficult for the parties to an employment agreement to start a discussion about a proposed change to their employment terms, problems are more likely to occur if that discussion does not take place. We can assist both employers and employees to have the necessary difficult conversations.
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