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An independent MP and her Chief of Staff are in a legal dispute over work hours and conditions

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Independent MP and her Chief of Staff face legal battle over work hours, conditions, and alleged hostile conduct.
An independent MP and her Chief of Staff are in a legal dispute over work hours and conditions

Dr Monique Ryan

Sally Rugg

Independent MP Dr Monique Ryan has been taken to court by her Chief of Staff Sally Rugg. 

Rugg claims Dr Ryan tried to fire her because she refused to work “unreasonable” hours. She wants to continue in her job and is also seeking financial compensation for alleged “hostile conduct” at work.

Dr Ryan rejects Rugg’s claims. The case is now being heard in the Federal Court after attempts at mediation failed.

The background

Every Member of Parliament gets at least four taxpayer-funded staff members called ‘electorate officers’.

On top of this, some MPs can hire ‘personal’ staff who typically focus on parliamentary work like policy advice or media. Personal staff are also taxpayer funded.

The PM allocates personal staff. Last year, PM Anthony Albanese cut the allocation for Independent MPs and Senators from four to one.

The basics

Rugg is a high-profile activist who led the ‘yes’ campaign for marriage equality. Dr Ryan is the Independent MP for Kooyong – the seat she won against former Treasurer Josh Frydenberg at the last election.

Rugg was hired as Dr Ryan’s personal staffer in July 2022 with the job title ‘Chief of Staff’.

She resigned from Dr Ryan’s office in December but says she was told she would be fired if she did not do so.

The dispute

The main dispute between Rugg and Dr Ryan is over work hours and responsibilities.

Rugg claims she often worked over 70 hours a week but was still told she was not working hard enough. She claims her workload, which included both parliamentary and community work, was unreasonable.

Dr Ryan has publicly acknowledged political staff are overworked but claims Rugg failed to satisfactorily perform the tasks set out in her employment contract.

The details

Rugg and Dr Ryan have each given the Court an account of key events. Both accept they regularly disagreed about Rugg’s workload and performance but disagree on many details of these disputes.

Rugg accuses Dr Ryan of being “hostile” to her, including by ignoring or criticising her in front of colleagues. Dr Ryan denies this.

Dr Ryan says she lost confidence in Rugg for neglecting work tasks and for boarding a flight with COVID. She also says “tension” between Rugg and other staff made her job untenable. Rugg rejects Dr Ryan’s characterisation.

What will happen?

The Court will consider both Rugg’s request to continue in her job and her claim for financial compensation for her treatment.

Rugg’s lawyers say she is willing to perform all aspects of her role within reasonable hours and believed she could continue to carry out her duties despite any personal falling out between the pair. Dr Ryan argues the working relationship has been damaged beyond repair.

The Federal Government, which is technically responsible for employing political staff, is also involved in the proceedings.

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