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In a significant decision affecting many Police staff, the Employment Court has upheld an earlier ruling by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) on eligibility for reimbursement of travel expenses.

The Employment Court judgment agreed with the ERA’s determination on all of the questions in dispute.  

At issue has been the interpretation of a long-standing clause (since 2006) in the collective employment agreements on motor vehicle reimbursement (MVR) for Police staff who are required to travel to an alternative workplace that is further away than their usual workplace or “home station”.

Following widespread restructuring in Police in 2012, which included staff rotations and expressions of interest (EOI), Police suggested that the MVR would not apply in those situations because rotation was a condition of employment and if a member had responded to an EOI they had effectively volunteered for the role and should bear any extra costs themselves.

Police also interpreted an employee’s “normal place of work” (home station) as an area or district.  This had the effect of making members ineligible for the allowance when temporarily moved around that area or district.

Many rounds of negotiation followed until the association eventually lodged proceedings with the ERA in 2018. The case was heard in May 2019 and the decision, released on August 29, 2019, favoured the association on all points.

  • Members must have a home station. They cannot be appointed to a district.
  • Members must have a substantive position linked to a specific location (ie, 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.

At that time, association national secretary Greg Fleming said the finding meant that any temporary move from a member’s substantive position and normal place of work could trigger eligibility to payment. And, because the payment was not time limited, members would be eligible for the payment until they returned to their substantive position and normal place of work.

Police appealed the decision through the Employment Court and that case was heard in September 2020 with the judgment in favour of the association released last month.

The court upheld every one of the ERA’s findings, accepting submissions made on behalf of the association by Susan Hornsby-Geluk and Harley Dwyer (the association’s senior legal advisor).

Much of the association’s preparation for the two hearings was done in-house by Harley working with senior employment advisers Leeann Peden and Kerry Ansell. “It required an extraordinary commitment of time and resources. It’s just a shame that we weren’t able to avoid that by being able to reach an agreement with Police five years ago,” Greg said.

Any retrospective claims by members will be calculated by the statutory maximum of six years back from the date of the ERA determination in August 2019.

The association will now be focusing on a communication and remediation process for Police to undertake with affected members.

A copy of the 2019 ERA determination and the subsequent Employment Court decision can be found below.

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