Associates believed the split was amicable and involved Rugg working until January 31. They were taken by surprise when Rugg filed her application in court.
Comment has been sought from Ryan, who has so far declined to speak about the case.
While MPs’ staffers work for them, their employment is technically under the Department of Finance.
Rugg’s lawyers, from the firm Maurice Blackburn, declined to comment, but confirmed she was still employed by Ryan.
This masthead spoke to five sources involved in the teal movement with direct knowledge of the workplace troubles surrounding the pair. They described a mismatch of priorities between Ryan (and her campaign staff) and Rugg, who joined the office after the election.
The Kooyong MP’s office announced on Friday the hiring of a new community organiser and emailed constituents about “re-engag[ing] the Kooyong volunteer base”.
Sources said Rugg sometimes took several days off after parliamentary sitting weeks. Sources close to Rugg says she fulfilled the requirements of her contract.
One source familiar with Ryan’s office said major party staff were often able to be moved to different roles within parties.
“Independents don’t have the same system,” said the source, who spoke on background because the matter was before the courts, adding that this was a rare example of both the MP and staffer having public profile.
According to the Fair Work Act, employees may refuse to work unreasonable hours based on a number of factors that include their health, personal circumstances, the usual requirements and patterns of work in the industry and the employee’s level of responsibility.
Rugg also invoked the enterprise agreement for MPs’ staff, which sets out the parameters of ordinary and additional working hours.
The agreement also says the level of payment provided to politicians’ electorate and personal staff, including allowances and other benefits, reflects an expectation they will be regularly required to work more than a standard week.
The case has been launched against the backdrop of the Albanese government last year slashing the staff allocation for independent MPs from four to one, over which Ryan accused Labor of attacking the crossbench.
“This measure is aimed at decreasing the effectiveness of the community independents in particular,” she said in June.
Parliament House also drew increased focus on its own workplace practices and treatment of politicians’ staff after the release of Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins’ Set the Standard report in late 2021, and other high-profile allegations regarding parliamentary culture.
A review published by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in October recommended politicians’ ability to terminate their staff should be limited, which the government accepted in principle.
Various submissions to the review complained about the long hours parliamentary staffers endured. One anonymous staffer said one there were “unrealistic” expectations of having to be available all hours.
“The ‘reasonable hours’ are not defined and are therefore left for interpretation (and in some cases, abuse),” the submission said. There is no suggestion this has occurred in the current case.
Ryan told The Australian in October she was considering fundraising for extra staff as some staff were working more than 70 hours a week.
“It’s not healthy. I think it’s only a matter of time before we have a poor outcome with one of our staff members,” she said.
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