During tough economic times the need to offer alternative employment to employees becomes a very real possibility for many employers. This very recent decision of Deputy President Sams of the Fair Work Commission provides some guidance on one aspect of this vexed issue.
Spotless Services Australia Limited (Spotless) provided a catering service at the Tomago Aluminium. Due to changes at that site, two employees who were no longer required, and were offered alternative employment at Eraring. There was no dispute that the alternative employment was for the same pay and conditions the employees had previously enjoyed. It was essentially identical employment, save for the additional distance and time taken to travel from home to Eraring.
While working at Tomago the employees travelled from Rutherford to work, a distance of 25 km. The distance to Eraring is 53 km and amounted to an additional 25 minutes travel each way.
The employees rejected the offer on the basis that the additional travel meant the offer was not “acceptable alternative employment”therefore entitling them to redundancy pay.
However, in deciding the issue, Deputy President Sams commented:
“… I return to consider whether the additional travelling time made the offer of reemployment objectively unacceptable alternative employment. While I sympathise with the extra inconvenience and cost the employees would have been required to accept, particularly in the context of their relatively low wages and part time hours, I am unable to conclude that a daily travel time of around 1 hour and 40 minutes return trip, or an additional travel time of 50 minutes return, constitutes a sufficient basis for refusing the offer of reemployment at Eraring”.
It follows that DP Sams rejected the employees’ claims and granted the application by Spotless to reduce the redundancy pay to zero.