Union claims for Travel allowance payment rejected
The Fair Work Commission has arbitrated on a dispute raised by the Electrical Trades Union in Victoria (ETU), who claimed employees were entitled to a travel allowance under the terms of their enterprise agreement, despite rarely being required to travel. In rejecting the claim, the Commission reinforced the principle that interpretation of award and agreement provisions involve the use of plain language as well as reviewing the intention of parties in previous negotiations.
The company, Programmed Industrial Maintenance (PIM), provide electricians to undertake contract maintenance, shutdown and project services to clients in light and heavy industry across six sites in Victoria. It was agreed between the parties that most of the affected employees commence and finish their working day at a client’s manufacturing site and have done so for many years.
The ETU claimed that all PIM electrical employees are entitled to a daily travel allowance of either $28.00 or $36.00 per shift. In contrast, PIM contended that there is no entitlement unless an employee is required to start and finish work at a place other than the client site at which they ordinarily and regularly work.
The company’s enterprise agreement at clause 27 provides that the allowance is payable if an employee is required to attend work and starts and finishes work away from the “Company workshop” or “designated depot”. Until April 2020, PIM routinely paid the allowance until advising employees that their normal client site would be allocated as their designated depot, and effectively, payment of the allowance would cease.
The ETU claimed that as PIM does not maintain workshops or depots, has no control over the client sites and utilise client facilities for amenities, storage, etc.; then the allowance would always be payable.
In response, PIM argued that the clause must be read as a whole having regard to the long-standing industrial purpose of allowances and the circumstances in which they are properly engaged. If the definition was not extended to include the client sites, it would mean that the employees would receive additional compensation for travel, even though they are rarely required to travel.
In accepting PIM’s argument, Commissioner Katrina Harper-Greenwell noted,
“the logical conclusion is that the workshop or depot is identified as those which are managed or controlled at each of PIM’s client sites. Given that starting and finishing work away from the Company workshop or designated depot is a precondition to the allowance, it then follows that the affected employees would only be entitled to the travel allowance if they commence and finish work away from the PIM managed or controlled company workshop or client site where they ordinarily work”.
She noted that during negotiations for the agreement, PIM raised with the ETU their understanding of the clause and its application. Further, she determined that simply because they had previously paid the allowance until April 2020 did not itself become a determining factor.
For questions about disputes, award and agreement interpretations, or other employment questions, please contact Dean Cameron at Workforce Advisory Lawyers – We Know Employment Law on 0417 622 178, 1300 WAL LAW or via email to email@example.com
Disclaimer: This information is provided as general advice on workplace relations and employment law. It does not constitute legal advice, and it is always advisable to seek further information regarding specific workplace issues. Liability limited by a scheme approved under professional standards legislation.