'I need someone who works harder than you.' The 'work culture' case that keeps getting messier.

An independent MP, Dr Monique Ryan, and her chief of staff, Sally Rugg, are engaged in an employment dispute that asks when 'intense working conditions' become unreasonable. 

Teal independent Dr Monique Ryan claimed victory in the seat of Kooyong in 2022, replacing former treasurer Josh Frydenberg. She hired Rugg, the former head of Change.org and campaign director with GetUp!, as well as an author and activist, as her chief of staff shortly after the election. 

But by the end of 2022, Rugg had resigned, under circumstances that are now the subject of a case playing out in Federal Court. 

Watch Dr Monique Ryan speak about her election win. Post continues below.

Video via The Project.

Why is Sally Rugg suing Dr Monique Ryan?

Rugg has said that while chief of staff she usually worked 70 to 80 hours a week - including working on "both days of the weekend" and performing early morning and late night duties along with her already long mandated work hours.

She wrote in her affidavit: "During sitting weeks of parliament, a standard day was at least 12 hours, and there were many days where I worked even longer than that."

Generally in politics, a chief of staff works madly behind the scenes - solving problems, being a sounding board, mediating disputes, managing logistics, handling media inquiries, briefing their superior and attending lots and lots of meetings.


In a key December meeting, Rugg also alleged that Dr Ryan rolled her eyes and questioned stress leave taken by Rugg. The stress leave was taken after Dr Ryan, who advocated for stricter COVID-19 rules during the pandemic, gave Rugg a formal warning for catching a flight while sick with COVID-19.

"I said, 'Monique, you're a GP. I can't believe you're accusing me of faking my medical leave,'" Rugg said in her affidavit.

In another alleged encounter, Rugg said she felt worried how Dr Ryan would react to her taking time to purchase tampons during her work hours. 

"I realised that my period had started. After the press conference I walked to Aussie's café to buy tampons, but they didn’t have any. I started getting cramps and an upset stomach so I went to the bathroom for five or 10 minutes. When I returned to the parliamentary suite about 9.15am or 9.20am, Dr Ryan was visibly angry at me and did not speak to me," Rugg said in an affidavit. 

Court documents show the former activist was paid an annual salary of $166,000 to work for Dr Ryan. Rugg said she felt as though Dr Ryan's "expectations were impossible to meet". 

For context, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in mid 2022 cut staffing allocations for independent and minor party MPs. It meant they would only be allowed to employ one adviser as part of their staffing allocation in the new parliamentary term, in addition to the four in their electorate offices.

Under the previous coalition government, crossbench MPs and senators were allowed to have two advisers and two assistant advisers. 


And for many independents - including Dr Ryan - this ruling would have impacted their team. As North Sydney MP Kylea Tink told The Australian the cut meant some "people work twice as hard or only half as much gets done". 

Dr Ryan has since said she "never once gave Ms Rugg a direction that she should work that many hours or that many days per week". She also insists the cut to staffing allocations did not mean Rugg was expected to do the work of four people. 

Rugg said she feared she would be sacked if she refused to do the "unreasonable" additional work hours. Rugg also claimed, as per court documents, that Dr Ryan said she needed to know her staff were prepared to work hard for her if "I want to be prime minister one day".

Rugg then alleges that she was dismissed from working for the teal independent, effective January 31.

According to the affidavit, Dr Ryan was frustrated after months of conversations about Rugg's performance and said: "Look, I'm going to terminate your employment. I have made up my mind to terminate you in January. We can either do it at the end of [a performance improvement plan]... or I could do it right now if I wanted to. You are not working hard enough and I need someone who works harder than you."

Image via social media.


With this in mind, Rugg decided to 'make a stand' against the hardcore work culture that permeates politics. And she's done this by suing her boss, launching an unfair dismissal claim against Dr Ryan and the Commonwealth. 

The case was filed earlier this year. It centres around an alleged breach of general protection under the Fair Work Act - essentially a focus on wages and working conditions.

For approximately four weeks, the pair underwent mediation, but failed to find a resolution. It's understood Dr Ryan and Rugg wanted to come to an arrangement to make the highly publicised court litigation go away. But the Commonwealth, which pays Rugg's salary, refused to back down, as per the Herald Sun.

"This whole situation is sad, and it is difficult," Dr Ryan said out the front of court. "I really wish that it could be over."


Throughout these proceedings, Rugg has fought to remain Dr Ryan's chief of staff. 

Rugg had applied for an urgent court injunction to stop Dr Ryan from ending her employment as chief of staff, after she alleged she was pushed into resigning.

But that all changed this week when a judge in the case said it would be "wholly unreasonable" to order Dr Ryan to continue working with the staffer who is suing her.

The judge confirmed Rugg would no longer be paid by the Commonwealth, as there was no "prospect whatsoever of a co-operative relationship being restored" between the pair.

While announcing this update however, the judge also confirmed that Rugg's allegations against Dr Ryan were serious and could affect the MP's reputation - both personally and professionally.

Ultimately, the pending trial will consider whether 70 to 80 hour working weeks - aka almost twice the ordinary working week of 38 hours - is unlawful.

Although it's well known that in the land of politics, the hours are long, there's plenty of other industries that follow similar output expectations.

Think chefs, lawyers, nurses, and so on. As Rugg's lawyer said, these proceedings will likely become a test case in parliamentary workplace culture.

But for now, this case remains entangled in the messy, political weeds. And we can't look away.

With AAP.

Feature Image: AAP.

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