The Western Australian Court of Appeal decision in Ethnic Interpreters and Translators Pty Ltd v Sabri-Matanagh  WASCA 186 has provided guidance in determining an employer's principal place of business, in the context of cross-border disputes in workers' compensation claims.
The case involved a worker who was allegedly injured while working on Christmas Island for a company that provided translating and interpreting services. The primary judge found the appropriate jurisdiction for the worker to pursue a claim was Christmas Island, the island being an external territory of Australia albeit with laws mirroring those of Western Australia.
The primary judge reached this conclusion by applying the "cascading" series of tests set out by s 20 of the Workers' Compensation and Injury Management Act 1981 (WA)(Cl) to identify the state or territory with which the worker's employment is connected.
The primary judge found there was no one state or territory in which the worker "usually worked" or was "usually based". This was because the worker had worked for the employer both in Victoria and on Christmas Island for roughly the same number of days.
The primary judge's attention therefore turned to the "principal place of business" test. In determining this issue, the judge focused on the amount or extent of translating and interpreting business carried on by the employer in each of the states and territories in which it operates, concluding that the evidence did not identify one state or territory.
On appeal, the Court made the unanimous decision in accepting the construction advanced on behalf of the employer's Christmas Island insurer, Allianz Australia Insurance Limited, that the phrase referred to the state or territory in which the principal place from which the business activities of the employer are controlled or managed is located. This was New South Wales because the employer's sole director worked in an office in Parramatta and made all ultimate decisions in relation to the employer's operations from that office.
This decision is important given cross-border provisions are substantially similar in all states and territories. The decision is consistent with the ACT Court of Appeal's decision in Avon Products Pty Ltd v Falls (2010) 5 ACTLR 34.