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Significant Cases and Milestones

Workplace injury law

Having successfully acted for more than 40,000 clients on injury compensation matters, the firm's WorkCover practice continues to be its chief focus and one in which it has achieved many important legal milestones.

Notable cases of Common Law in injury compensation in which the firm has acted include:

  • Victoria's first $1 million compensation award for damages. The firm acted for a Victorian man who was awarded more than $1 million in damages for serious injuries sustained as the result of an electric shock at work;
  • The first medical tribunal decision on asbestos (1981);
  • The earliest industrial hearing loss claims

Ryan Carlisle Thomas was the court-appointed law firm to manage Australian and New Zealand claims to the $11 billion UK miners and coal dust compensation fund established by the British Coal Corporation. The fund was set up to compensate former miners who suffered disease and illness as a result of the harmful and dangerous working conditions in the mines.

The firm continues as one of the major plaintiff legal practices in the Victorian workers compensation system representing workers in securing both statutory benefits and common law payments arising from workplace injury.

Employment and discrimination

Ryan Carlisle Thomas is known for its practice in combating anti-discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of age, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, and disability.

A significant number of the firm's clients have been individual employees seeking to secure their workplace rights or employment entitlements. The firm has acted in virtually every available jurisdiction in pursuing such matters.

Industrial law

Ryan Carlisle Thomas has had a significant role in some of the major industrial disputes in labor history. These include:

  • The Mudginberri (1985) and Dollar Sweets disputes (1986);
  • High Court proceedings on behalf of the Australian Nursing Federation against the State of Victoria (1995);
  • The Australian waterfront dispute between Patrick Stevedores and the Maritime Union of Australia. In that dispute Ryan Carlisle Thomas assisted in resolving proceedings under Section 45D of the Trade Practices Act;
  • International Harvester in which the firm successfully argued that the employment contracts of International Harvester's workers should not be terminated upon the appointment of managers and receivers to a company. The Supreme Court held that the company's receivers were to pay workers the wages they were owed;
  • Amcor v CFMEU. Instructed by the Pulp and Paper Workers Branch of the CFMEU, Ryan Carlisle Thomas fought for the rights of workers all the way to the High Court of Australia. Here, it was argued that workers should be entitled to retrenchment or redundancy payments on the demerging of a corporation;
  • BWIU v Odco (The Troubleshooters labour hire case)

In the most recent major dispute between the Victorian Government and the Victorian branch of the Australian Nursing Federation (now Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation), Ryan Carlisle Thomas acted as the union's legal advisers. Following a long industrial campaign and numerous proceedings the dispute was resolved in 2012 when the government and employers agreed to union claims over wages and the maintenance of nurse-patient ratios.

Ryan Carlisle Thomas has represented its union clients in a wide variety of industrial matters. The range of issues are illustrated by the following:

High Court

  • Union rules cases (e.g. RANF and NSWNA);
  • Challenges to Federal Award regulation (Re AEU);
  • Interpretation of industrial legislation (s111AAA; CFMEU and TWU);
  • Redundancy Entitlements (Amcor v CFMEU);
  • Union Registration (Re Australian Principals Foundation)

Federal Court

  • Award/Agreement Breach Proceedings (e.g. ANZ and ANMF);
  • Union Disamalgamation applications (e.g. ASU v ASU – MEU (WA) LHMU and Pastry Cooks Case);
  • Prerogative relief on remittal from High Court (Re: AEU and VPF);
  • Section 45 Trade Practices Act Proceedings (MUA);
  • Workplace Relations Act breaches (e.g. Able Demolitions: Employment Advocate v Williamson);
  • HREOC Sex Discrimination

Over many years Ryan Carlisle Thomas has acted in proceedings involving demarcation disputes between unions and in disputes within unions.

Fair Work Commission (previously Fair Work Australia and the Australian Industrial Relations Commission)

RCT has acted in the full range of issues arising under the Fair Work Act, the Workplace Relations Act and predecessor acts, including:

  • Union registration and rules alteration cases;
  • Awards and Agreement making and certification;
  • Industrial disputes;
  • Matters involving industrial action and employer application to prevent such action;
  • Notices of initiation of bargaining period and industrial action;
  • Appeals on issues of jurisdiction and merit;
  • Unfair dismissals

The firm acted for the then Royal Australian Nursing Federation in the long running proceedings directed to securing federal awards for nurses. These proceedings commenced in 1983 and continued in various forms for over a decade and involved the making of federal awards in all States, including Victoria at the time of the Kennett Government.

The Trade Practices Act 1974 (repealed) now Consumer and Competition Act), by Section 45D prohibited two persons acting in concert from hindering or preventing a third person from acquiring or supplying good or services from or to a fourth person, where the first two persons were not an employee of the target. This section was a weapon favoured by employers in industrial disputes featuring boycotts. In one such s45D case involving the firm the various applications by the parties were described by the Court as “further battles in a campaign of trench warfare”. Ryan Carlisle Thomas has frequently represented unions and individuals involved in these applications. Such applications by employers have often been accompanied by claims involving the commission of the industrial torts of conspiracy and interference with contractual relations. The firm has also accordingly acted in those matters.

For many years as part of its industrial law practice the firm acted for major industry superannuation funds including the Labour Union Co-operative Retirement Fund (LUCRF) and FinSuper and acted in a significant dispute involving an industry fund and the regulator: Host-Plus v AHA.

Unions the firm currently represents include:

The firm also assists members of the National Union of Workers on workplace injury and other legal matters.

RCT has an active practice associated with the racing industry and acts for both jockeys and the Australian Jockey's Association. As part of that practice it has conducted litigation on behalf of racehorse owners, including the "Sound Action" proceedings.

Sexual and institutional abuse

Ryan Carlisle Thomas has been a pioneer in representing victims of sexual and institutional abuse and is an advocate for the rights of children abused while in care. Since 2004, the firm has represented clients throughout Australia seeking justice and compensation for abuse they have suffered.

Claims of sexual abuse are notoriously difficult to prosecute. RCT was the first law firm to devise and negotiate a protocol with the State of Victoria for out-of-court settlement of claims for compensation. This protocol helps claimants pursue compensation and statements of apology, which could otherwise be strenuously resisted in the courts. The protocol has been adopted by all State Government departments, the Uniting and Anglican Churches, as well as the Salvation Army.

Payouts have also been secured under the various redress schemes operating in Western Australia, Queensland, Tasmania, and overseas in Ireland. The firm lobbied hard along with other advocacy groups such as COIN to establish the landmark Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2013.

The firm's clients include child migrants or home children who were illegally and forcibly sent from the United Kingdom and Malta to Australia post-World War II and often raised in orphanages and care; and members of the Stolen Generations of Australian aboriginal and Torres Strait Islands people who were removed from their families by Australian and State Governments between 1909 and 1969. The firm provides pro bono support to the Care Leavers Australia Network (CLAN), an advocacy and support group for people who grew up in the care of orphanages, children's homes and foster care.

Transport Accident Compensation (TAC)

Outside the workplace, the firm's Transport Accident practice has been historically important and continues to be a major strength of its work.

Its practice in transport accident compensation law features a number of notable cases including Linsley v Petrie (1998). In this case, the firm argued successfully in the Court of Appeal that a driver who had suffered personal injury as a result of having been collided with should not be estopped (precluded) from bringing proceedings for compensation for personal injury because litigation with respect to property damage caused by the accident that had already been dealt with by the Magistrates Court, and during which proceedings the collision had been found to be "an inevitable accident".

Crimes compensation

The firm regularly represents victims of crime in applications for assistance to the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal. It has also represented many clients in review applications to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal in cases where the victim has not received as much assistance as they should under the scheme. In Pham v Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal [2016] VSCA 102, the firm argued successfully in the Court of Appeal that the cap on assistance for loss of earnings under the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 applies after any deductions for compensation received from other sources are made. The judgment means that victims of crime in Victoria who have received compensation for loss of earnings from other sources are up to $20,000 better off under the Act.