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Long road to travel reimbursement

It’s been a long time coming, but an encouraging ruling from the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) last month means many Police staff may be eligible for reimbursement of travel expenses.

It was six years ago that the Police Association first tackled Police about the importance of reimbursing staff for expenses incurred when travelling to places of work away from their home station if it is further than they would normally travel.

Police tried to circumvent the need to pay such an allowance by claiming that an employee’s “home station” could be categorised as anywhere within their district.

This disadvantaged staff required to work temporarily at locations that are further away than their usual work site.

The association first challenged Police on its interpretation of the Work Related Motor Vehicle Reimbursement Allowance (MVR) in 2013 when the Napier and Hastings police stations were merged into one “Hawke’s Bay station”.

Police then suggested that rotations and expressions of interest (EOI) also meant employees were not entitled to the MVR. It said rotation was a condition of employment, therefore the MVR did not apply. It also argued that an employee responding to an EOI had volunteered for the position and, as such, was not “required” by Police to move, so any costs should be borne by the employee.

After many fruitless rounds of negotiation, the association lodged proceedings in the ERA last year. The case was heard in May this year and the decision, released on August 29, favoured the association on all points. In short, the ERA determined:

  • Members must have a home station. They cannot be appointed to a district.
  • Members must have a substantive position linked to a specific location (eg, their home station) that is their normal place of work.
  • Members temporarily appointed to an alternative position/role under an EOI process where the distance travelled to the new place of work is greater than the distance travelled to reach the usual place of work are eligible for the MVR.
  • Members temporarily rotated to an alternative position/role where the distance travelled to the new place of work is greater than the distance travelled to the usual place of work are also eligible for the MVR.
  • Payment of the MVR for members temporarily moved or rotated into an alternative position/role is not time limited.

National secretary Greg Fleming said association legal officer Harley Dwyer and senior employment adviser Leeann Peden had put in enormous effort over the past two years to continue the fight over MVR entitlements for members.

“The decision means that any temporary move from a member’s substantive position and normal place of work can trigger eligibility for MVR, and because the payment is not time limited, members are eligible for payment until they return to their substantive position and normal place of work,” he said.

Those entitled to claim the allowance could backdate their claim by the statutory maximum of six years.

However, Police has indicated it will appeal the decision, which could mean further delays before the matter is finally resolved because any appeal probably wouldn’t be heard till next year.

“Depending on the outcome of the appeal, we have agreed the statutory maximum of six years for any retrospective claims will be calculated back from Thursday, August 29, 2019,” Mr Fleming said.

“This is to ensure members are not disadvantaged by the subsequent appeal if all or part of the authority’s decision is upheld. This will also give Police time to consider a claims process if required.”

Police tried to circumvent the allowance by claiming that an employee’s “home station” could be categorised as anywhere within their district.

Members who want to let the association know about their circumstances or find out if their situation aligns with the ERA decision, can email MVR@policeassn.org.nz. Note, however, that claims are not being processed by Police until the outcome of any appeal is known.

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