Sunday, July 20, 2008

CASE NOTE: OH & S and staff car parking ...

In Health Services Union v Ambulance Service of NSW, President Boland J of the Industrial Relations Commission of NSW Sydney considered:

> whether a matter concerning health and safety of employees constituted an “industrial matter” under s6 of the Industrial Relations Act 1996 (NSW) which would trigger the NSW Commission’s power to arbitrate.

> whether protecting employees from injury should be extended to the employer subsidising secure parking for staff who choose to drive to work where the workplace is an area notorious for crime.

> the extent of any such subsidy.

In September 2006, the Health Services Union notified the Commission of an industrial dispute with the Ambulance Service about the safety of ambulance drivers and other staff accessing the Sydney Ambulance Centre (SAC). The Centre was located in the Sydney Technology Park in the inner-city suburb of Redfern, “an area notorious for crime”. Staff had no secure and dedicated parking area, and the Ambulance Service had received reports of staff being assaulted and their vehicles interfered with, especially at night. The Centre also operated as a 24 hour Ambulance Station.

Some 11 months prior to this, the employer had commissioned a risk management/OHS staff member to conduct a security risk assessment. That assessment showed a severe risk of staff being assaulted on afternoon and night shifts when walking from their car to the Centre. There was also a high risk of damage to or theft of cars parked in the street. The Ambulance Service requested more police patrols and offered a staff escort where requested. However, staff escorts were not always available.

After some conciliation attempts by the Commission, the Service offered staff access to 50 dedicated car spaces in the Sydney Technology Park, though these would be available on a user pays basis at a maximum of $76.15 per fortnight. The matter was further complicated by the relocation of the Aeromedical & Medical Retrieval Services Unit (MRU), also part of the Ambulance Service, from St George Hospital to the SAC. MRU staff had enjoyed subsidised secure parking of $2 per week at St George Hospital and said refused to relocate to SAC unless secure parking was available. The Ambulance service offered to subsidise the cost of secure parking in Sydney Technology Park. The subsidy commenced at 75% of the employee cost and decreased by 25% each six months, ending after 18 months.

An interim arrangement was put in place whereby staff would park at the Ambulance Service State Headquarters and then be bussed to the SAC. In November 2007, after numerous more conciliations, the matter was referred for arbitration.

The Union insisted that MRU staff receive the same subsidy as at St George Hospital, and that remaining staff should be given “secure parking … accessible safely to all persons required to attend for duty at the Sydney Ambulance Centre” at a cost of no more than $9.50 per week. Further, staff commuting by public transport be provided with an escort to and from public transport locations.

When the matter reached arbitration, the employer made a procedural point that the Commission may be impeded from making an award or order in the arbitration without the Full Bench sitting. The President of the Commission ruled the Commission was not so impeded. In particular, the President ruled that a matter concerning the health and safety of employees involving eliminating or alleviating the risk of harm to those employees was an “industrial matter” under s6 of the Act which would trigger the Commission’s arbitration power.

The Commission ruled that, as far as possible, any employer subsidy of parking should apply equally to Ambulance Service staff, whether original Centre staff or relocated MRU staff. The Commission found there was a severe risk of assault to staff walking to and from their vehicles parked in the street. This meant any measures for protection of staff by the employer include the Ambulance Service subsidising car parking. The amount of the subsidy would vary depending on the number of employees requesting secured parking. The Commission ordered such a subsidy be provided and set out the terms of the subsidy.

Ensuring employee safety can include provision of secured parking subsidised by the employer, especially where the employer’s premises are in an area known to be notorious for crime.
Health Services Union v Ambulance Service of New South Wales
(11 April 2008)

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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