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ACTU pushes for clearer rules on disconnecting after work

Key Points:

  • ACTU proposes stronger right-to-disconnect clauses in workplace awards.
  • Right to disconnect allows employees to refuse after-hours work communication.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) is stepping up its fight to solidify the right to disconnect for workers.

They submitted a proposal to the Fair Work Commission advocating for stricter regulations within workplace awards.

The right to disconnect, passed by Parliament in February 2024, allows employees to switch off from work communications outside of designated hours. It aims to promote work-life balance and ensure employees are compensated for any out-of-hours work. The ACTU argues for clear award clauses holding employers accountable for proper staffing and minimizing non-essential after-hours contact. They emphasize that employer disorganization shouldn’t be an excuse to avoid paying workers for their time.

The legislation is set to come into effect in August 2024 for larger businesses and August 2025 for smaller ones. However, the Opposition Leader, Peter Dutton, has pledged to abolish it entirely if the Coalition wins the next election.

The ACTU President, Michele O’Neil, strongly criticizes Dutton’s stance. She views the right to disconnect as crucial in the face of rising living costs. “Unions are arguing that awards clearly set out workers’ rights to have a life outside work. Changes in technology and work arrangements cannot be used to undermine the right to be paid for the work you do and to have the right to disconnect. Peter Dutton wants Australians to work longer hours for lower wages while they face cost-of-living pressures. The right to disconnect is an important part of addressing cost-of-living, because people deserve to be paid wages for every hour they work.

“Peter Dutton’s promise to take away the right to disconnect shows just how out of touch he is with working Australians. Abolishing this right would worsen the work-life balance of families and create more burnout and stress in people’s lives. A healthier workplace is a more productive workplace.

“Establishing a clear separation between work and the rest of our lives is important for improving mental health and enabling all of us to spend quality time with our loved ones.Peter Dutton is more interested in appeasing big business than standing up for everyday Australians who are trying to juggle work and life with the wages they earn.”

Debate Heats Up

Oliver Woolrych, from Fiverr, however, highlights the potential conflict between the right to disconnect and flexible work schedules. He suggests clear communication policies from employers, setting expectations for response times outside of regular hours. Transparency and dialogue between employers and employees are seen as key to navigating this new landscape.

“The “right to disconnect” law has the potential to make it harder for businesses to be adaptable and flexible, aspects which are crucial to ensure a business thrives. Small businesses, which typically operate with limited resources, may find it challenging to maintain operations with the same level of flexibility and efficiency as before the implementation of the bill.

“The main point of the “right to disconnect” is to ensure that employees aren’t ‘always on’ and have sufficient time away from work. For employers, the first step should be establishing clear policies outlining expectations for after-hours communication and response times. While many business owners maintain online accessibility around the clock sending messages to employees as their schedules permit, it’s essential to clarify to staff that immediate responses are not mandatory and employees won’t be penalised for only responding during work hours. 

It’s worth noting that in certain circumstances some element of flexibility may be necessary, particularly during emergencies. That’s why continuous and transparent dialogue between employer and employee is crucial to ensure expectations are set and everyone is on the same page. If employees do express a willingness to be available for emergencies, perhaps in exchange for preferred working hours or more flexibility, such contact doesn’t violate the new law.”

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Yajush Gupta

Yajush Gupta

Yajush is a journalist at Dynamic Business. He previously worked with Reuters as a business correspondent and holds a postgrad degree in print journalism.

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