‘Scaremongering’: Union rebuffs threat to flexible work

Australian workers win 'right to disconnect'

Bosses who claim the right to disconnect will threaten flexible work are simply “scaremongering”, unions say.

As part of the government’s planned workplace reforms, workers will soon have the right to ignore unreasonable calls and emails outside their rostered shifts.

Employer groups have said this would end flexible working arrangements that allow workers to pick up their children or go to appointments.

But Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus said the claims were “typical scaremongering that we see every single time”.

“It sounds internally contradictory to me,” she told ABC radio on Monday.

McManus said any flexible work plans would be the product of a reasonable arrangement between workers and their employees, so it made no sense for it to be axed under the right to disconnect.

Federal minister Tanya Plibersek said bosses and employees would be expected to apply common sense when switching off after hours.

Asked if workers should be worried they would lose the ability to attend medical appointments or pick up their children during work hours, Plibersek said “absolutely not”.

“These laws are about making sure you’re not working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, expected to be on call, unless you are paid to be on call,” she told Seven’s Sunrise program on Monday.

“Of course, there will be exceptions to that.

“You have to apply common sense, but what we are seeing more and more is a nine-to-five job where you’re expected to be answering emails at 11 o’clock at night, five o’clock in the morning.

“You should be paid those extra dollars.”

The opposition has already said it would scrap the laws if the Coalition is returned to government, with shadow finance spokeswoman Jane Hume warning the change could stifle productivity.

“It is nonsense red tape that is, in fact, going to punish bosses for providing flexibility in the workplace,” she told Sky News on Monday.

Greens leader Adam Bandt, whose party proposed the right to disconnect changes, said he had been overwhelmed by positive feedback.

“Having the right to recharge outside of work hours is absolutely critical,” he told ABC.

“The law just hasn’t kept up with technology.”

The government’s legislation, which cleared parliament on Thursday, includes penalties for employers who breach the new rules.

However, the government is expected to legislate again to alter those penalties.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers said on the weekend the Coalition had the opportunity to vote against breaches being considered a criminal matter, but chose not to.


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