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Political staffer’s case will test ‘reasonable’ overtime

Political staffer Sally Rugg will use her unfair dismissal claim against a federal MP as a test case

Political staffer Sally Rugg will use her unfair dismissal claim against a federal MP as a test case Photo: AAP

Political staffer Sally Rugg will use her unfair dismissal claim against a federal MP as a test case in what constitutes “reasonable” overtime for Australian workers, her lawyer says.

Teal MP Monique Ryan and her chief of staff will return to the Federal Court in Melbourne on Friday, after private negotiations failed to resolve their dispute.

The court will decide whether she should keep her job while she pursues her unfair dismissal claim against Dr Ryan and the Commonwealth.

Two prior urgent hearings were adjourned to allow the parties to enter mediation, however Justice Debra Mortimer warned that Ms Rugg’s interlocutory application would need to be resolved soon.

Ms Rugg has alleged she was sacked for refusing to work unreasonable hours and is seeking compensation and pecuniary penalties from both parties.

Her lawyer Josh Bornstein said Ms Rugg will add claims of “serious contraventions” of the Fair Work Act against the Commonwealth to her dispute. If proven, it carries a penalty of up to $660,000.

He alleged Dr Ryan publicly acknowledged her staff were working 70-hour weeks, and that the Commonwealth had been on notice for many years about the “unlawful excessive hours” parliamentary staff faced.

“Ms Rugg’s case will be a test case for what constitutes ‘reasonable’ overtime or additional hours for parliamentary staffers and may impact other white-collar employees in the labour market,” Mr Bornstein said.

If her case succeeds, he said it could open the door for further lawsuits for “every Australian worker experiencing exploitation because of a contractual obligation to perform undefined ‘reasonable additional hours'”.

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