Two cleaners who worked at Canberra Hospital have been sacked after being caught falling asleep during an unpaid break.
The workers, Tshering and Sonam, who only want to give their first names, are both from Bhutan and have been supporting their husbands and children.
They are desperate to be reinstated to their jobs, which they say are their only means of survival in Australia.
Tshering and Sonam fell asleep in the day surgery waiting area while all the theatres were closed.
It was 4 o’clock in the morning and it happened during their designated unpaid break.
Their employer is contracting company ISS, which described the behaviour as a “serious breach” of the company’s code of conduct.
Tshering has worked at the hospital for one and a half years while Sonam has worked there for three years.
After being contacted by local media, ISS told the women it was reviewing their terminations.
The women argued they accidentally fell asleep on their unpaid breaks after working five or six hours without taking their paid break.
The workers admitted to having received a warning about a year ago for sleeping at work, however this time they were on an unpaid break.
The workers did nothing wrong
The United Voice union is helping the workers, and argue they did nothing wrong by sleeping on their break.
Even so, the two women have written to ISS to apologise for falling asleep and begged for their jobs back.
“Up until now there hasn’t been any flaws recorded against my work-related competency/performance,” Sonam said in the letter.
“It’s very unfortunate that very recently I have fallen asleep on duty which I sincerely admit and regret for slipping into sleep while on duty.
“Should I ever repeat in future I would not expect any apology rather on spot termination may be delivered.”
Tshering said: “Please accept my deepest apologies for the misconduct I was involved at work.
“I am sorry is the very small word to say against my shameful misconduct but the burden of shame is utmost and it’s bending my stature to knee-level.”
Pleas fell on deaf ears
Despite their pleas, ISS went ahead and fired the women.
United Voice ACT secretary Lyndal Ryan called on ACT Health to intervene and call on ISS to reinstate the workers.
“This is big multinational company and they can afford to treat people badly,” Ms Ryan said.
She said it was part of a wider problem that started with ACT Health contracting out jobs, resulting in workers losing their rights.
ACTU president Michele O’Neil said she was shocked by the dismissals.
“It’s an unpaid break you should have a right in Australia to do what you need to do in an unpaid break,” she said.
“It’s callous and unreasonable and unfair for them to be sacked.”
Canberra Health Services appeared to wash their hands of the matter, saying the sacking was a matter for the contractor.
An appalling decision
Leading industrial advocate Miles Heffernan from Industrial Relations Claims said he was disgusted by the actions of the contracting company.
“I think it’s appalling to sack a person for falling asleep on their break, especially when they are not being paid while on that break,” he said
“It’s often the case that healthcare workers and night shift workers are working whilst they’re tired, and it’s very common for employees to take naps on their breaks to help get them through the night shift.”
Commission previously ruled employees can sleep on breaks
In a previous case heard by the Fair Work Commission that involved three nurses who were sacked for sleeping while on night duty, the Commissioner made it clear that if an employee wants to nap, they can do so on their own allotted break.
“This ISS contract company has a duty to ensure that its staff’s fatigue is effectively managed,” Mr Heffernan said.
“In fact, by their firing these women, they’ve effectively sent a message to all night shift workers – don’t fall asleep, or you might find you lose your job!
“I can only imagine the uproar when someone falls asleep and crashes their car when driving home from work because they didn’t think they could nap on their break.
“The employer needs to have a long hard look at itself if it’s going to take such an absurd approach,” Mr Heffernan continued.
“To classify falling asleep on a break as ‘serious misconduct’ makes as much sense as naming Lady Gaga in the Australian Cricket Team”.
If you have been unfairly dismissed from employment, you may be eligible for compensation or reinstatement.
But you only have 21 days to file a claim, so don’t delay!
Call our team at Industrial Relations Claims today on
1300 045 466