Australia senate committee recommends “right to disconnect” for workers

A person turning off their smartphone
(Image credit: Getty Images)

An Australian senate committee has recommended that workers in the country should have a right to disconnect.

The Select Committee on Work and Care made the recommendation to the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations on 19 October as part of an enquiry into the impact that combining work and care responsibilities has on the wellbeing of workers, carers, and those they care for.

It found that the changing ways of work in recent years with the advancement of technology has caused an “availability creep”, where employees feel they need to be available all the time to answer emails, calls, or deal with their workload. This has only been exacerbated by the pandemic, impacting productivity, increasing work-life stress, and taking workers away from a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay, added the committee.

The new way of working particularly affects workers aiming to balance paid work and unpaid care, and who work from home, and means that people balancing work and care are even less likely to get a break from these responsibilities.

A right to disconnect, already in place in a number of European countries, would dictate at what times workers can be contacted by their employer, and provide legal protections for those forced to engage outside of their working hours.

The committee pointed out that recent workplace innovations have seen bargaining to contain working hours, and a number of European countries and some employers have moved to establish a right to disconnect from work.

In light of the changes to workplace boundaries following the pandemic, and given the need for working carers to have clear parameters around their working time, the committee recommended that a right to disconnect be considered for Australian workplace relations law.

“Such a right should enable and support productive work from home and flexibility of work, while ensuring workers have the capacity to disconnect from their job and to work their contractual hours,” stated the committee.

The committee made the recommendation to the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, and encouraged it to investigate legislative reforms to the Fair Work Act 2009 and any other associated workplace laws.

The right to disconnect should enable and support productive work from home and flexibility of work as well as protecting the rights of workers to disconnect from their job outside of contracted hours and to enforce this with their employer. Additionally, it should place a positive duty on employers to reasonably accommodate the right wherever possible and allow employees to appeal to the Fair Work Commission where the right is not being enacted by employers.

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France was the first country in Europe to implement the right to disconnect. In 2013, a national cross-sectoral agreement on quality of life at work stipulated that businesses should avoid any intrusion into employees’ private lives by outlining the times when devices should be turned off, according to Eurofound. In 2016, this was made into a law, now regulated by Article L.2242-17.

Other EU countries have followed in France’s footsteps, with Belgium, Italy, and Spain enacting legislation that has some form of right to disconnect. The European Parliament also passed a resolution in favour of this right in January 2021 and has asked the European Commission to prepare a directive on this matter which will be accompanied by a legislative proposal. The Commission has said it will work on the matter, although hasn’t given itself a specific deadline.

The UK currently doesn’t have a right to disconnect, but ministers were urged by unions in April 2021 to include this policy in upcoming legislation. Prospect, a tech workers union, found that around two-thirds of UK workers wanted this policy put in place. The union said that it would refine blurred boundaries between work and home life and show the government was serious about tackling the dark side of remote working.

Zach Marzouk

Zach Marzouk is a former ITPro, CloudPro, and ChannelPro staff writer, covering topics like security, privacy, worker rights, and startups, primarily in the Asia Pacific and the US regions. Zach joined ITPro in 2017 where he was introduced to the world of B2B technology as a junior staff writer, before he returned to Argentina in 2018, working in communications and as a copywriter. In 2021, he made his way back to ITPro as a staff writer during the pandemic, before joining the world of freelance in 2022.