Earlier this year, the federal government passed the second tranche of its industrial relations reform, effectively allowing employees a right to disconnect from their employers or third parties after work hours, with a few exemptions.
But what will this legislation look like? And how will it affect the modern workforce?
World wide web
In a digital age, it has been said that people ‘are only a phone call away’. While this has allowed for global connectivity, it has also meant employees often end up taking their work home with them in the form of contact from their employers and clients.
Recently, the Federal government proposed an amendment to the Fair Work Act 2009, stating that employees should not be ‘required to monitor, read or respond to work communications from their employer outside of work hours’.
Expanding on the amendment, which could see employers fined for continued contact of their staff outside of office hours, Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke added that these rules won’t apply in particular circumstances including contacting staff to fill empty shifts.
If the legislation passes, it will come into effect six months later.
The power of overtime
According to a report from the Australia Institute, which examined the working hours of Australians in 2022, overtime has become a major issue in the workforce.
The survey found that seven in ten workers performed work tasks outside of regularly scheduled hours, with almost half citing pressure from employers as a major factor.
Additionally, 38 percent of workers reported that overtime was expected in their workplace
With flexible working models growing in popularity after the Covid-19 pandemic and additional access through technology, workers are finding it harder to escape their office even after completing a full working day. Whether it’s checking emails on the weekend, calling different time zones at uncomfortable hours, or zooming from your living room, the line is being blurred between home and the workplace. The aim of the amendment is to protect the mental health and wellbeing of Australians by allowing them time to ‘switch off’ and decompress.
There are already several countries who have implemented ‘right to disconnect’ policies. France was the first European country to rule that employees cannot be punished for refusing to engage outside of working hours, passing legislation in 2016. Ireland, Germany and Ontario have since joined the list.
A call from industry
In a recent statement, Tony Burke said it was likely that employers and employees would arrange methods for out-of-hour contact in essential situations between themselves, based on legislation amending the Fair Work Act.
During a committee inquiry into the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes No.2), the Independent Education Union of Australia (IEU) explained that teachers regularly come under pressure to be accessible to students and their parents outside of school hours.
“The technological shift over the last 10 or so years has made teachers increasingly accessible to parents. Digital apps can literally create connections between parents and teachers 24/7, and there’s the expectation to respond. That can create stress which is unnecessary. Definitely, the right to disconnect would be one avenue to be able to resolve problems like that.”
Similarly, the Police Federation of Australia emphasised that first responders need to be able to switch off and de-stress.
“Police see trauma, deal with the families’ trauma, deal with their colleagues’ trauma, have to investigate, have to go to court, and get media attention…the right to disconnect gives those officers that little bit of breathing space.”
Other proposed changes to the industrial relations reform include the right for casual workers to apply for permanent positions and minimum standards for gig workers.
To read about the impacts of workplace loneliness, click here.