The Greens are leading a push to allow workers to ignore emails, calls and texts outside of working hours, introducing legislation that would see Australia join France and other European nations with a ‘right to disconnect’.
The Fair Work Amendment (Right to Disconnect) Bill 2023 was moved in Parliament by Greens leader Adam Bandt on Monday in recognition of the changing nature of work, particularly the work-from-home shift prompted by the pandemic.
“When you clock off, you should have the right to log off. You shouldn’t have to answer phone calls, emails or text from your employer outside of working hours unless you’re getting paid for it,” he said.
A right to disconnect from work was recommended in an interim report by the Senate Select Committee on Work and Care last year. It was backed by the government, Coalition – with reservations – and the Greens.
The report cited the “advancement of technology” for what it described as ‘availability creep’, pointing to countries like France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Ireland and Portugal, which have introduced legislation since 2017.
Mr Bandt said the private members bill introduced on Monday delivers on the committee’s recommendation by preventing employers from contacting employees outside work hours.
Employees, meanwhile, are “not required to monitor, read or respond to emails, telephone calls or any other kinds of communication”, unless an exemption applies, such as in an emergency or when the “employee is in receipt of an availability allowance for the period”.
“For too long, the boundaries between work and life have been blurred. Continuous connection to work has been normalised and the pressure to be available at all hours of the day and night has been building for working people across the country,” Mr Bandt said.
“With the proliferation of smartphones and advances in technology, work emails are only a notification away and a phone call from your boss can interrupt a night out with friend or family. Workers are often expected to be on call 24/7.”
Mr Bandt urged the government to support the bill, which he said would reform Australia’s outdated workplace laws and “promote a healthier work culture”, without “limiting the ability of employers to communicate with their employees to get work done”.
“Our workplace laws were not drafted at a time when everyone had a smartphone in their pocket and was only a phone call, text message or email away from their work. They were drafted at a time before the pandemic, when working via technology became the norm for many people,” he said.
“This bill will give people the right to log off when they clock off and to say unless you’re getting paid for it, your time is your own and your employer does not have the right to contact you by text, email or phone when you’re enjoying your leisure.”
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