Workers closer to getting a ‘right to disconnect’

Workers who are not paid to monitor their phones and emails 24/7 should not be penalised if they choose to disconnect, the prime minister says.

A range of workplace changes are before parliament, designed to improve pay and conditions and stamp out exploitation.

Some MPs want worker protections to go further and allow people to switch off outside their rostered hours.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has endorsed the proposal, which has already been established in several European nations.

“What we’re simply saying is someone who’s not being paid 24 hours a day shouldn’t be penalised if they’re not online and available 24 hours a day,” he told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

“Indeed, many companies and businesses have exactly these systems in place now.”

The right to disconnect was a vital issue for workers, Finance Sector Union national secretary Julia Angrisano said.

“The modern working environment has drastically changed and technology has extended the working day far beyond when employees are paid for their time,” she said.

“There is already too much unpaid work and wage theft taking place, and employers have generously interpreted clauses like ‘reasonable overtime’ to their benefit and to the detriment of workers.”

Independent senator Jacqui Lambie is not convinced, saying employees already had flexible working arrangements.

Enshrining the provision wasn’t necessarily the solution given complaints could already be made to the Fair Work Commission, the Tasmanian said.

Senator Lambie also expressed concern that workers who ignored employers’ calls would lead to confrontation.

“You’re going to go back in that workplace the next day and … I’m just worried about the argy bargy that will go on in that office,” she told ABC radio.

Business groups branded legislating the right to disconnect unnecessary, arguing employees already have protections against working unreasonable hours.

The right to disconnect would also make it harder for businesses to interact, shadow attorney-general Michaelia Cash said.

“The supposed new right will see the hours of the day where businesses will be able to work with others across Australia, or even globally, potentially made now more unworkable,” she said.

The coalition is opposed to the overall package of workplace changes, which Senator Cash said would create undue costs for business owners, hamper flexibility and impact productivity.

“All businesses want to do is prosper and grow and create more jobs for Australians and you are killing them,” she said.

Senator Lambie also has concerns about the bill’s proposed definition of casual employment and has taken issue with unions being provided a right of entry to workplaces without notice to investigate underpayments.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Business NSW, and the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry urged the government to consult further on the “rushed and flawed” industrial relations laws.

The changes would hurt business owners and operators and damage communities with extra costs and constraints, especially with a one-size-fits-all approach to casual employment, they said.


Dominic Giannini and Kat Wong
(Australian Associated Press)


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