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Why an employer was fined $90,000 for imposing a 50-hour work week.

The Court described the roster as “unsocial” and in breach of the Fair Work Act.

Imposing a 6-day week of 50 work hours resulted in an Australian meat wholesaler being fined $90,000. The finding refers to the written contract contravening section 62 of the Fair Work Act 2009.

But let’s look at the roster involved:

The employee had to work 2.00 am to 11.30 am on weekdays, and from 2.00 am to 7.00 am on Saturdays, plus ‘reasonable’ additional hours as requested.

That’s 6 days every week with 9 hours (plus a 30 min meal break?) Mon-Fri and a 5-hour stint every Saturday. Plus any extra hours requested by the company.

Many will have seen or heard of similar work arrangements. We’ve seen manufacturers, distributors, food packagers, transport, bakeries and even metal recyclers work similar hours and shift lengths each week.

The Court described the employee as having every weekend impacted and the 2 am start times as “unsocial”. This means the employee was on permanent night shift 6 days a week.

The early starts may well be a business requirement, but the compounding effect of these night hours would likely contribute to a high level of fatigue, as it would be difficult in a residential environment to obtain sufficient sleep unless the person was diligent in adjusting their life to suit.  

Imagine working 6 days and trying to get  6 – 8 hours of sleep sometime between say 1 pm and midnight, whilst trying to maintain healthy social and family interactions as well.

Usually, the employees involved work these hours due to the extra incentives for overtime and shift premiums, childcare arrangements, or they have difficulty finding other suitable employment in their area that matches their skills and capabilities. Others do the hard yards just to try and get ahead.

But is this sustainable? Especially in these days of increased awareness of fatigue, mental health, family balance and social implications.

There are a variety of ways this could have been rostered differently, some of which may have actually saved the company money whilst addressing the employee preferences and fatigue issues.

Businesses need to consider the whole picture – from health and safety considerations, operational requirements and employee preferences, to market disruptors and new technologies. 

Is it time for you to review your work arrangements, and see if they still balance the needs of your people and your business?

Orkest is an expert workforce planning and design consultancy, specialising in roster optimisation. 

Drawing on two decades of advisory across Australia and the Asia Pacific, we’re helping organisations solve their most crucial workforce challenges by finding balanced solutions that are good for business and good for people.