JLU: Junior Lawyers' Union

Asserting the rights of junior lawyers, who have much more power than they realise.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Law firms depriving annual leave of meaning

I recently took a couple of days of annual leave. When my grandmother called and discovered I wasn't at work, it was like I had committed some grave sin. Previously, my absence from the office on the Queen's Birthday public holiday had caused her to shake her head as if I was lazy. In her mind, Monday to Fridays are for work and that's that.

"We get public holidays off," I told her. "And twenty days' annual leave a year."
"Twenty days?!" she exclaimed. "You LUCKY thing!"
"Grandma, it's the statutory minimum."
"You're very lucky."
"They get a minimum of twenty-five days in the UK."
She looked away and dismissed the thought of such extravagance with a wave of her hand.

As I disconsolately front up to work this weekend, however, it occurred to me that annual leave is effectively being deprived of meaning. What is the purpose of mandating twenty days' leave from the workplace if you're spending at least twenty days a year in the office on weekends? Put simply, annual leave is being neutralised.

Australian governments - of both political persuasions - have accepted that four weeks' annual leave is a right that needs to exist in order to preserve the health and welfare of all employees. So law firms reluctantly honour this requirement. But they also manage to work around it. You'll work nights and you'll work weekends - but, hey, you get your twenty days a year off. Even if they're the only days you get off!

But what government really meant is that employees are entitled to at least twenty days away from work in addition to nights, weekends and public holidays. This is why public holidays are gazetted and the working week has been capped at 38 hours.

Yet, with law firms' interpretation of the "38 hour week" (which essentially is that any additional hours required by firms of their junior lawyers are "reasonable"), junior lawyers could theoretically find themselves working up to 345 days a year. With weekends, public holidays and annual leave, even our government only intends for us to work a maximum of about 232 days per year.

Your twenty days of annual leave are completely deprived of meaning if you're working many more than that in days that you're supposed to have off. And, at most firms, uttering the phrase "days in lieu" will, at best, result in a confused look and, at worst, outright amusement.

Comrades, we junior lawyers who work weekends are not paid overtime. Instead, as the firms express it, our remuneration package is "all inclusive" and "takes into account work that may be performed outside normal office hours". (As to why we happen to be working weekends, see here.) But, worse, we're not actually accruing any annual leave for these additional days we're in the office. So it turns out to be cheaper for the firms to have us in on weekends than during normal office hours.

And, comrades, that can't be right. After all, even my grandmother doesn't expect me to be at work on the weekend.


Anonymous KY said...

I see the points being made here and they are largely valid.

Howwever, I think there is a risk that such comments may sound a bit precious if they are not put more circumspectly. This is especially so given that people who tend to get overtime pay or don't tend t work on weekends are those are on lower base salaries, or they are working in jobs that, whilst well paid, are often considered unattractive by most due to their odious work nature (eg not too many people are willing to be garbologists).

In that regard, I think Legal Eagle's post sometime ago regarding people on mortgages versus her South-East Asian experiences may be particularly poignant.

28 August, 2006 20:45  
Blogger I am the Queen of F*%&ING EVERYTHNG...OK!! said...

I agree with ky..paid o/t and allowances are greatly overrated and after it chucks you into another tax bracket; totally stuffs up any chance you have of that nice little tax refund you were expecting. JL's as with many salaried/packaged positions have ample claims to make on a tax return whereas Joe Blow Garbologist, is limted.

31 August, 2006 12:10  

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