McDonald v Broadspectrum. When does a claim by an employee against her employer ‘relate to’ the contract of employment?

[2019] QSC 313 McDonald v Broadspectrum can go straight into the comparative binder – thank you Angus Macinnis for signalling it. A teacher employed by Broadspectrum on Nauru, sues it for personal injury. Amongst other things, Ms McDonald alleges Broadspectrum failed to provide a safe place or system of work, to warn her about the mould contamination, to provide protective clothing or respirators, to prevent exposure, and to provide adequate ventilation, in each instance in Nauru.

Broadspectrum applied for a declaration at the Supreme Court of Queensland that the substantive law applicable to her claims is the law of New South Wales and for an order setting aside or staying and transferring her claims to the Supreme Court of that State.

The relevant compensation schemes, in Queensland and New South Wales, each exclude from their scheme an employer’s liability arising under the law of another country. Bradley J however held that lex loci delicti is Nauru law,  which therefore is lex causae. The argument that the employment contract contained implied term to the contrary was rejected.

As I discussed with Angus, I was confused by the court’s qualification of the facts as ‘tort’ (particularly as it also refers to claimant’s argument re forum contractus being Nauru); is this not a contractual claim rather than one in tort? (and one relating to the employment contract, for that matter). Angus however pointed out that in Australia workplace injury claims are usually brought as tortious breach of care claims rather than breach of a contractual obligation to provide a safe system of work. Comparatively speaking, the EU approach would probably be different. For a comparative (consumer contracts, health and safety) angle see e.g. [2018] EWCA Civ 1889 Committeri v Club Med.

On the issue of concurrent liabilities and  EU PIL see recently also Bosworth.

Geert.

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