November 27, 2022
Members at Appin Lodge have won backpay after winning a dispute over being forced to take unpaid or annual leave for COVID isolation measures that went beyond public health orders.
The win, which could have broader application across the union and beyond, means that some members will now be paid as if at work for time taken off to take a PCR and isolate as directed by South32.
During December 2021 and January 2022, South 32 directed a significant number of members not to attend work for a period in circumstances where they believed a member had been exposed to COVID-19. Members were either placed on annual, personal, or unpaid leave.
The Union took the dispute to the Fair Work Commission, with members giving evidence about the various scenarios in which they were required to take leave.
The Commission found that members were entitled to be paid as if at work for some of the time and were entitled to personal leave some circumstances. The decision means that some members who were on unpaid leave while directed not to attend work will receive backpay and some members who had annual leave deducted will have that leave recredited.
For members directed to take a PCR and isolate after 30 December 2021, the decision of the Fair Work Commission is an important win that is significant not just at Appin, but for the Union and beyond. It is the first time a case of this nature has been lodged and won.
The finding that employees are entitled to access personal leave rather than annual leave or unpaid leave for the period before 30 December 2022 is also a significant win for members who had annual leave deducted while isolating.
While some affected members who were directed to take a PCR and isolate before 30 December did not experience the full win, a decision was made that appealing the decision would risk overturning the gains made.
About 90 members at Appin will benefit backpay or credited leave from the Fair Work Commission’s decision in this matter.
District Vice President Bob Timbs thanked the Lodge members who put up their hands to participate in the case and the legal team’s dedication to running the matter to a successful outcome.
“Everyone was committed to having a Covid-safe workplace, but South 32’s actions in directing people not to attend work were heavy-handed.
“We are grateful to the Lodge members who put their hand up to stand up for a fair go. Without their commitment, this win wouldn’t have happened.”