Workers set to get ‘right to disconnect’ from bosses after hours

Workers will soon have the right to disconnect and not answer calls or emails outside of paid hours, with the Prime Minister and key Senate crossbenchers endorsing the proposal.

Unreasonable contact from employers would be banned under the laws, with workers able to tap the Fair Work Commission if they’re hassled, which could ultimately result in a fine.

On-call employees and managers would be excluded from the rules.

There would also be carve-outs for bosses calling employees about changes to their rostered shifts.

The proposal was put forward by the Greens, which secured the government’s backing.

The intention was not to upend existing arrangements but rather help fearful workers find their voice, Greens Senator Barbara Pocock said.

“It won’t disturb where people are paid to be on call or where their job description requires it or where there’s an emergency,” she said.

“The intention here is to give some backup to that casual worker, that insecure worker so they can have a conversation without fear that they’ll never get another shift.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese backed the proposal, which has 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 said.

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

“Technology has extended the working day far beyond when employees are paid for their time,” she said.

Independent Senator David Pocock backed the right to disconnect after negotiating some amendments.

Employees would have the right to ignore messages, rather than employers being prohibited from sending them.

A “frivolous and vexatious complaints” clause would also be included.

Business groups hit out against the right to disconnect, arguing employees had various protections against working unreasonable hours.

A model allowing workers to switch off and not be penalised was better than fining companies for normal business activities and taking small disputes to the Fair Work Commission, Business Council chief executive Bran Black said.

“Everyone deserves to be able to switch off at home, though it’s really important to get the balance right here given people are now wanting more flexibility and to work different hours and in different ways,” he said.

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 right to disconnect is one part of a much larger set of amendments to existing workplace laws.

The broad-ranging changes would also make it easier for casuals to transition into a permanent job, give gig workers more protections and unions the right to enter workplaces without notice to investigate underpayments.

Independent senators Lidia Thorpe and David Pocock will support the full package alongside the Greens after securing amendments from the government.

The legislation is set to pass on Thursday.

The Coalition is opposed to the 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.

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.


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