The Federal Court of Australia recently handed down a significant decision in the matter of WorkPac Pty Ltd v Rossato [2020] FCAFC 84, redefining Australia’s employment law landscape.

Mr Rossato was employed by WorkPac between July 2014 and April 2018. During this time, he supplied labour to companies within the Glencore Group under six consecutive contracts, all of which specified that he was a casual employee.

As such, WorkPac contended that pursuant to sections 86, 95 and 106 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), Mr Rossato was employed on a casual basis and was therefore not entitled to paid annual leave, compassionate leave or personal/careers leave. Further, it contended that section 116 precluded Mr Rossato from claiming payment for public holidays. Finally, WorkPac sought declarations that as a ‘Casual Field Member’, Mr Rossato was barred from claiming corresponding entitlements under the applicable enterprise agreement.

In the event that the Court found against WorkPac’s submissions, it sought declarations that it was entitled to restitution of the casual loading included in Mr Rossato’s hourly rate.

WorkPac noted that casual employment arises in the absence of a “firm advance commitment as to the duration of the employee’s employment or the days/ hours the employee will work.” Despite this, it asserted that as the terms of Mr Rossato’s contract specified that he was a casual employee, there was no need to have regard to how the contract was performed in practice.

The Court rejected this argument, contending that the presence or absence of the “firm advance commitment” should be assessed with regard to the employment contract as a whole. In doing so, it noted that whilst the description of the party’s relationship is relevant, it is not conclusive, and regard should also be had to whether WorkPac:

  • provided for the employment to be regular or intermittent;
  • permitted Mr Rossato to elect whether to offer employment on a particular day; and
  • permitted Mr Rossato to elect whether to work and the duration of the employment.

The Court concluded that in spite of the language used in his employment contract, Mr Rossato was not a casual worker under the Fair Work Act or the Enterprise Agreement. Rather, the parties had agreed on employment of indefinite duration, which was stable, regular and predictable. As such, Mr Rossato was entitled to paid annual leave, paid personal/carer’s leave, paid compassionate leave and payment for public holidays.

The Court also rejected WorkPac’s claim for restitution for the causal loading paid to Mr Rossato, contending there was no relevant mistake and no failure of consideration.

Ultimately, this case highlights the need for employer’s to carefully consider the nature of work being undertaken by staff in order to prevent the risk of ‘double dipping’. It follows the 2018 decision of WorkPac v Skene [2018] FCAFC 131 which similarly held that employees who receive casual loadings may nevertheless be entitled to annual and personal leave.