Lawyers acting on behalf of Flight Centre have argued the industrial award sales staff were employed under did not require their bosses to “stand over” them to ensure breaks were taken.
An order sought by the Together union, which is prosecuting a case against the Brisbane-based travel giant on behalf of five former employees, for a wider audit of the company’s staff would also be “unacceptable”, Brisbane’s Federal Circuit Court has heard.
The comments came on the third day of hearings in the case seeking more than $200,000 allegedly owed to the group resulting from multiple breaches of the Fair Work Act, including the failure to provide award wages and keep records of overtime.
An additional 10 current and former staff members told the court this week of an ad-hoc process that tracked only the days worked by staff, not the hours, without directions against overtime or formal processes for allocating breaks.
The claimant group, which also gave evidence, spoke of pressure to attend regular so-called “buzz nights”, where they received food and drinks but were not paid, and working outside their rostered hours to attend meetings and finish tasks or sales.
Many of the broader group of witnesses spoke of the standard practice among staff to take only half their one-hour lunch breaks.
The union alleges the company also failed to give an additional two 10-minute paid breaks to four of the five claimants.
Delivering oral submissions before Judge Michael Jarrett on Wednesday, Christopher Murdoch, QC – acting for Minter Ellison on behalf of Flight Centre – argued those breaks were simply provided for under the award.
“The words don’t say breaks must be taken,” he said, adding that should they be intended to for an employer to “stand over” workers there would be a more “dogmatic” approach.
The four former staff members had also given insufficient evidence they had not in fact taken them, he said.
But Charles Massy, for Maurice Blackburn on behalf of the union, argued while it may be difficult in a retail sales environment, a more formal process could have been established.
“The employee can’t discharge that [obligation around the breaks] by simply pushing it down to the employees,” he said.
The breaks remain just one of the disputed aspects of the case.
The union is also arguing the company operated a since dropped “dubious system” for years, featuring below award wages topped up by a parallel commissions-based incentive scheme.
Flight Centre denies that was so, saying their obligations under both contracts with staff and the award were met.
An audit of the companies broader staff base within 30 days is also sought by the union, which suggests thousands of other workers could have been impacted under the system.
Mr Murdoch argued the court did not have the power to make such an “unacceptable” order as it extended well beyond the five former staff members who brought the case, which would also “not be practical” given the size of the company.
Both parties are expected to make further submissions on the amount of compensation claimed ahead of a further hearing.
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