Australian workers would have a legislated right to fully disconnect from all work technologies outside of work hours and to not be contacted by their boss, under a bill introduced to Parliament by the Greens this week.
Greens Leader Adam Bandt introduced the private members’ bill to the lower house on Monday, following recommendations from the Senate Select Committee on Work and Care earlier this month.
The bill legislates a right to disconnect, which would ban employers from contacting an employee outside of their allotted working hours and ensure that workers are not required to monitor, read or respond to emails, calls or other communications during this time too.
Bandt said this measure is required to combat “availability creep”, which has been exacerbated by insecure work, advances in technology and the increase in remote work.
“For too long, the boundaries between work and life have been blurred, continuous connection to work has been normalised and pressure to be available at all hours of the day and night has been building for working people across the country,” Bandt said in Parliament on Monday.
“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 friends or family. Workers are often expected to be on call 24/7 to answer emails, take calls and be available to their employers at a moment’s notice.”
A number of comparable countries have already legislated a right to disconnect, including France, Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain.
France introduced a right to disconnect in 2017, with all companies with 50 or more employees required to make a deal about the hours workers can and can’t be contacted.
Victoria Police’s enterprise bargaining agreement also contains a right to disconnect clause.
The Greens’ plan would add the right to disconnect outside of working hours to the National Employment Standard, with an exception made for genuine emergencies or welfare matters, or when the worker is being paid to remain in contact.
“There is a simple principle underlying this bill: when you clock off, you should have the right to log off,” Bandt said.
“You shouldn’t have to answer phone calls, emails or texts from your employers outside of working hours unless you’re getting paid for it. It is about recognising that work should not consume every aspect of our lives and working people should have the ability to recharge and reconnect with their families, friends and communities.
“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.”
The bill is a key recommendation from the Senate Select Committee on Work and Care’s final report, which was tabled earlier this month. The Committee raised concerns about the “gradual erosion” of the boundary between working and non-working hours.
“Emerging technologies should not tether workers to jobs outside paid working hours without formal agreement and recompense, and they are particularly problematic for working carers,” the report said.
The government Senators backed this recommendation, with the Greens members calling for it to be prioritised.
According to an Australian Institute survey last year, nearly 85 per cent of Australian workers support a right to disconnect, while only 8 per cent oppose it.