Australia is poised to enact legislation granting workers the entitlement to disregard unreasonable calls and messages from their employers outside regular work hours without facing penalties. The concept of the “right to disconnect” forms a component of a comprehensive set of amendments to industrial relations laws proposed by the federal government through a parliamentary bill. The government contends that these changes aim to safeguard workers’ rights and contribute to the restoration of a healthier work-life balance.
According to the draft of the bill, including a provision that employees can apply to the Fair Work Commission for a stop order against employers who contact them unreasonably in their spare time. If the application succeeds, the employer will face penalties, including fines of up to $18,000. On-call employees, who are paid to be on-call and work around the clock, would be excluded from the rules.
The law follows the lead of European nations like France, which introduced a right-to-disconnect rule in 2017. The rule will allow workers to refuse after-hours calls from their bosses while helping them manage their stress levels and maintain a work-life balance.
The government has secured the support of the Greens, who pushed for the new rule to tackle overwork and bolster the rights of people in drawn-out wage disputes, to pass its latest Closing Loopholes reform package, which will be debated this week. Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke said on Wednesday the government had locked in support for the new legislation from most senators.
He said the new legislation would prevent “people working for free if they’re not being paid to do so.” The Australian Council of Trade Unions welcomed the move as a way to help people achieve a better balance between their work and home life. However, business groups remained concerned about the impact on competitiveness and the potential for vexatious claims to be brought to the Fair Work Commission.
Australia’s workplace laws are among the most tightly regulated in the world, resulting from years of labor union lobbying for greater protections for casual workers. But critics say the rules create extra costs for small businesses, impose undue restrictions, and make recruiting and retaining staff harder. The Coalition opposes the new rules, with shadow attorney-general Michaelia Cash saying they will impose extra burdens on businesses, erode flexibility, and hurt communities.
The bill will include a more straightforward pathway for casuals to convert to permanent work, introduce minimum standards for temporary workers and truck drivers, and make it easier for the Fair Work inspectors to enter workplaces and investigate underpayments. It is expected to pass this week after the government secures support from independent and labor senators. The Greens’ Adam Bandt and Labor’s Barbara Pocock will back the package, which the government has dubbed “workplace rights you can count on.” “When you clock off, you should be able to turn off your phone,” Bandt said. “This is a victory for the people of Australia.” It will also help “send a message to the global community that we value our culture of work-life balance and respect for the importance of quality time with family and friends.” The Greens first proposed the right to disconnect last year.