Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission

Time spent on mine site for shift change is now time worked

The Commission has dismissed applications made by equipment operators working at an iron ore mine in the Pilbara who said that time spent for shift change should be paid work. The mine operates on a 24 hour per day, seven days per week basis over 365 days of the year with employees working 12 hour shifts back-to-back from 6am/pm to 6pm/am daily. The applicants argued that a change to their shift roster has led to them working more hours than required by their contracts of employment. The respondent conceded, and Senior Commissioner Kenner agreed, that a limit on the time over which an employee may be required to work could constitute a benefit. However, the respondent argued that the words used in the shift roster variation letter, namely the reference to “shift length:… 12 hours plus handover”, did not establish any contractual entitlement or impose any restriction on the respondent in terms of the handover process from one shift to another.

The Senior Commissioner considered whether the roster variation letter was a contractual limitation on the applicants’ hours of work. The shift changes resulted in employees being transported by bus or light vehicle, instead of driving themselves to the designated start point. Additionally, instead of receiving shift information on screens at designated start points, employees now accessed information at the front gate. The Senior Commissioner found that the roster variation letter and outlined roster arrangement terms did not appear to be a change in any meaningful sense and noted that the letter expressly stated that the current terms and conditions of employment remained unchanged. As such, the Senior Commissioner found that the letter did not appear to result in any change in shift length and, in fact, resulted in employees spending less time on the mine site in total, not more.

The applicants argued that “handover” means the same thing as “hot seat change” and was the physical handover of one piece of equipment to another operator. The applicants claimed that their attendance at the main gate, accepting instructions and reviewing allocation screens prior to the physical “handover” of equipment was “work”. The Senior Commissioner considered the concept of a “handover” in the context of how shift changeovers have previously been performed at the mine and determined that a “handover” is part and parcel of the shift change process and is distinct from a “hot seat change” where an outgoing operator gets out of a machine and the incoming operator gets in whilst the machine is still in operating mode.

The Senior Commissioner considered the specific terms of the employment contract and determined that the Hours of Work clause and Remuneration clauses should to be read together. The Remuneration clause referred to “shift requirements” which the Senior Commissioner determined included the arrangements necessary to attend work. A subclause of the Remuneration clause referred to
“all additional work time directly associated with your shift roster” which the Senior Commissioner considered to be broad enough to cover time spent as part of a shift change and was therefore a lawful direction given by the respondent to its employees. 

The Senior Commissioner found that time spent on the work site when engaging in shift changeover activities was not negatively affected by the roster change and is within the scope of the applicant’s contracts of employment.

The applications were dismissed.

The decision can be read here.

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