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The ‘right to disconnect’ will become law

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After days of negotiations, the 'right to disconnect' will become law. Employees will have a legal right to switch off outside of work hours.
The right to disconnect

After days of negotiations, the ‘right to disconnect’ will become law, meaning Australian employees will have a legal right to switch off outside of work hours.

It comes after the Government’s industrial relations reforms (measures for workers) passed the Senate on Thursday afternoon.

Other new measures include increased support for gig workers, such as Uber and Menulog drivers, and improved conditions for casual workers seeking permanent employment.

Background to the right to disconnect law

The government first tabled workplace reforms last year.

Some of its proposed changes, such as criminalising wage theft, were passed in December. However, the original legislation was split, so aspects of it could undergo further consideration by a Senate committee.

That committee handed down its findings last week. Its report made 11 recommendations, including a need to legislate protections for employees’ ‘right to disconnect’ outside of work hours.

The right to disconnect

A legal right to disconnect is designed to support workers who choose not to respond to “unreasonable contact” outside of paid hours. It won’t stop employees from choosing to work after hours.

The Senate committee found some employees were being driven to exhaustion due to an expectation of being accessible outside of work hours.

This included teachers, who were said to be confronted by parents when they failed to respond to messages outside of class hours.

Criticism

Concerns about a legal right to disconnect were raised by several members of the Senate committee.

Unintended consequences for businesses were mentioned in the Senate report, including potential logistical challenges or legal disputes brought by workers.

Nationals Leader David Littleproud told ABC that a “common sense” approach should be taken to disconnecting from work, rather than adding a legal right.

Unpaid overtime

The Government said it hopes the legal right to disconnect will prevent employees from being made to work unpaid overtime.

In the committee report, Greens Senators referred to unpaid overtime as a “ubiquitous problem” across Australian workplaces, which had “untold financial, physical, mental and social costs”.

A report released by the Australia Institute in November found the average worker was losing about $11,000 each year to unpaid overtime.

Next steps

Now that the industrial relations reforms have passed the Senate, the legislation will need to pass back through the House of Representatives before it becomes law.

Labor has a majority in the lower house, meaning it has enough votes to pass the legislation.

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