The Federal Court of Australia's recent decision in Qantas Airways Ltd v Australian and International Pilots Association  FCA 231 illustrates that the courts are likely to take a common sense approach to the interpretation of the provisions of a collective agreement. This case involved a dispute between an airline and an organisation representing its pilots over provisions in a collective agreement for overtime payments.
In Australian International Pilots Association v Qantas Airways Ltd  FMCA 1008, Federal Magistrate Burchardt was faced with an application by the Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA) for a declaration that Qantas Airways Ltd (Qantas) had breached the Qantas Airways Limited Flight Crew (Long Haul) Certified Agreement 2005-2007 (the Enterprise Agreement).
AIPA, on behalf of Captain Garry Duggan, asserted that Qantas had failed to provide Captain Duggan with additional rates of pay pursuant to clause 25.3 of the Enterprise Agreement. AIPA argued that clause 25.3 provides for a higher than normal rate of pay in circumstances where a 'downline disruption' occurs, which has the effect of extending the hours that would otherwise have been worked in a particular period.
Federal Magistrate Burchardt, based on his construction of the relevant provisions of the Enterprise Agreement, concluded that Qantas had breached its obligation to pay Captain Duggan additional rates of pay for the extra duty he had performed owing to downline disruptions.
Qantas launched an appeal.
The primary issues considered in the appeal before the Federal Court were:
- Whether clause 25.3 of the Enterprise Agreement applied to downline disruptions.
- Whether, where a downline disruption required further or different work, such work was to be regarded as an allocation of duty for the purposes of clause 25.3 of the Enterprise Agreement.
- Whether Federal Magistrate Burchardt erred in his definition and interpretation of the word 'assigned'.
- Whether work caused by a downline disruption was work that ought to be credited and paid in the ordinary way.
The Enterprise Agreement
Clause 25.3 of the Enterprise Agreement, which in a more conventional agreement might have been described as overtime or penalty payments, reads as follows:
Clause 7 of the Enterprise Agreement contains a number of definitions. The following were considered by Justice Gray, on appeal, as relevant to the interpretation of clause 25.3:
awarded means an allocation to a flight crew member as a result of the flight crew member's bid.
credited hours means hours accrued in accordance with clause 27.15 but excludes additional flight duty payments (clause 25.1)
Clause 27.15.1(b) of the Enterprise Agreement is headed: 'flight crew members may be required to exceed bid period divisor plus 5 where disruptions occur'. It reads:
Proper Construction of the Enterprise Agreement
Justice Gray offered the following construction of clause 25.3:
His Honour noted that while there is an 'allocation' in both the definition of 'assigned' and 'awarded', the word 'allocation' is not defined by the Enterprise Agreement. Justice Gray found that the allocation in clause 25.3 of the Enterprise Agreement involved a conscious decision to set apart a particular duty roster for a particular flight crew member who had not bid for it. His Honour then sought guidance on the meaning of 'allocation' from the Macquarie Dictionary:
In light of this definition, Justice Gray concluded that Federal Magistrate Burchardt was in error in determining that clause 25.3 of the Enterprise Agreement required Qantas to make additional payments to Captain Duggan. His Honour reasoned that any additional workload from the downline disruption is not the result of any 'allocation', but, rather, the number of flying hours involved in a roster is extended, by necessity, due to the disruption.
Accordingly, the Federal Court allowed the appeal and set aside the orders made by Federal Magistrate Burchardt, which required Qantas to pay Captain Duggan an additional payment for the extra duty he had performed due to downline disruptions.
Implications for employers
Given this decision relates to the Qantas Airways Limited Flight Crew (Long Haul) Certified Agreement 2005-2007 its application to all collective agreements is limited. The decision does, however, signal a willingness by the courts to adopt a common sense approach to the construction of various provisions of collective agreements. For employers, it also serves as a timely reminder that they ensure the terms of their collective agreements accurately reflect the parties' intentions and are drafted in clear, concise and unambiguous language.
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