Ms Ferris said that if a piece of the stage fell on a group of contestants, for example, it would meet the basic requirements of a class action if it was found that the employer had been negligent.
“The preposterousness of that scenario indicates how unlikely it is that you’re going to have that amount of people affected in the same way by a TV network or programming companies conduct,” Ms Ferris added.
She also said that under one of the provisions of the Federal Court Act, a class action can be broken up for a variety of logistical, financial and other reasons, or if the cases make more sense to be brought individually.
“In the case of this woman, if every contestant had been portrayed in a negative light and each contestant’s views were presented to the others to only show negative thoughts and that had happened to at least seven of them, you can imagine there might be significant commonality,” she said.
Despite only being handed down by a tribunal and not a court, Jonathan Mamaril believes the decision “would still be a leading ruling in the world of reality TV.”
Mr Mamaril, a director with NB Lawyers, the Lawyers for Employers, said the ruling was “pretty consistent” with how employment was defined in most workplaces and that “there would definitely be concern” going forward for TV networks.
“If they’re an employee, then depending on their contract, they potentially have entitlements to things like leave and superannuation,” he said.
A network could also be held responsible for illegal activity by contestants, whereas independent contractors wouldn’t be.
Channel Seven have not commented yet on if they will appeal. But Mr Mamaril said that the risk was that they might lose, and then it would become stronger case law.
“In the past this has been a grey area. This goes back a long way, and not just here in Australia where you’ve got contestants who come out of the limelight and experience mental health issues or are convicted of criminal acts.”
Tracey Jewel, a former contestant on Married at First Sight, said she started seeing a psychologist after the show. She was subsequently diagnosed with PTSD and said that reality TV contestants should be entitled to worker’s compensation.
“We’re paid to be on this show,” she said. “You’re under contract for two years. If you’re under contract, you should have some kind of duty of care.”
Ms Jewel described the ruling as a “very positive step” for the entertainment industry and said she “never” received any financial support for ongoing mental health costs from production company Endemol or Channel Nine.
“We’ve had suicides in London after Love Island,” she said. “Something obviously needs to change. Maybe this is the catalyst. I’m not the only one struggling mentally because of this show.
“They’ve not offered to pay for my psychologist… or GP or loss of income because I’ve been unable to work. To the people saying, what do you expect for going on reality TV? I expect a level of support.”
Matt Bungard is a journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald.
Broede Carmody is a culture reporter at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald