Right to disconnect should be law, Senate Committee says

The right to disconnect from work during personal time would be protected under law, according to a recommendation by a Senate Committee.
The right to disconnect

A Federal Senate Committee has recommended legal protection of a person’s ‘right to disconnect’ from work during their personal time.

The committee examined draft laws addressing concerns about employee expectations outside work hours.

In its report handed to the Government last week, the committee called for “clear expectations about contact and availability in workplaces”.

This included protecting a worker’s right to disconnect from work responsibilities after hours and on weekends.

The right to disconnect

Last year, Industrial Relations Minister Tony Burke introduced draft measures to change several mandatory workplace rules, outlined in the Industrial Relations Reforms Bill.

Some of these reforms (like criminalising wage theft) passed Parliament in December. Other measures like minimum standards for ‘employee-like’ workers (e.g. Uber Eats drivers) required further consideration from a Senate committee.

The committee published its report last week and made 11 recommendations to the government.

Committee’s view on the right to disconnect

The committee found some employees were being driven to exhaustion from pressure to be available to work outside their usual hours.

It said that the right to disconnect outside of work hours was an “aspect of work-life balance that needs to be protected”.

The committee also highlighted pressure on some teachers, who reported being confronted by parents for failing to respond to messages outside of class hours.

While some industries and workplaces have measures protecting employee hours and expectations, the laws would be the first national protection of the right to ‘disconnect’.

The committee heard this was particularly important for frontline workers. The Police Federation told the committee the AFP would welcome a “harmonised deal” on the matter.

The committee recommended that awards and enterprise agreements include the right to disconnect, and that the Fair Work Commission get special powers to deal with related disputes.

Senators’ response

Coalition Senators have opposed the reforms, saying they wouldn’t support workers, employers or job growth.

Greens Senators said they agreed to the “majority” of recommendations in the report, including allowing Australians to “turn off technology that ties them to work”.

The Greens said implementing this change would also help reduce unpaid overtime hours worked by Australian employees.

Independent Senator David Pocock called for further consultation before legislating the right to disconnect, saying he was “anxious” about any unintended consequences the changes could have.

Crossbench Senator Jacqui Lambie aired “significant” concerns about parts of the proposed reforms, saying they could cause harm to businesses and employers.

The government will consider the committee’s recommendations before progressing the legislation.

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