‘Right to Disconnect’ Law Will Be Overturned Under Coalition: Opposition Leader

The legislation gives workers the right to ignore calls and messages outside normal shifts.
‘Right to Disconnect’ Law Will Be Overturned Under Coalition: Opposition Leader
Freelance worker using laptop and typing an e-mail while working at home. (Shutterstock)
Monica O’Shea

Australian Opposition leader Peter Dutton has promised to repeal the Labor government’s “right to disconnect” legislation that passed the Senate last week with support from the Greens.

The legislation gives workers the right to ignore calls and messages outside their normal shifts and in its current form includes penalties for employers.

The Coalition leader said “yes we will,” when asked if his party will go to the next election promising to overturn this law.

“We will take a policy that’s in our country’s best interests that provides support to workers but doesn’t make it impossible, particularly for small businesses to employ staff,” Mr. Dutton said on Sky News Australia.

Mr. Dutton also raised concerns about the Greens and union movement dictating industrial relations policy, creating a productivity issue.

“If you think it’s okay to outsource your industrial relations or economic policy to the Greens … then you are going to see the continuation of the productivity problem in this country,” Mr. Dutton said.

The Labor Party is planning to correct an aspect of the legislation that would see employers receiving criminal penalties for contacting staff after hours.

The Bill was rushed through the Senate, without an amendment to the legislation being passed.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told 6PR Perth that his team were taking a “common sense approach” so workers could not be “punished for not being available 24 hours a day.”

“We’re talking and communicating in very different ways. We can send emails at different hours of the day. People aren’t paid 24 hours a day. And for work-life balance, what you have is, in most cases, common sense, and that will certainly apply here as well,” Mr. Albanese said.

The Labor leader explained that as the global world changed, laws being passed through the parliament needed to adapt too.

“You can’t have workers to be punished if they’re not available 24 hours a day. So, I’m certain that this will be a common sense proposal which will work its way through the system,” Mr. Albanese said.
“And as a part of us adjusting to the new world, as our world changes, our industrial relations laws need to as well.”

Business Groups Raise Alarm Bells

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Wilcox said the “right to disconnect” laws were impractical and would simply add unwarranted conflict and uncertainty into workplaces.
“There are already provisions in the Fair Work Act and awards that regulate the extent to which employees can be unreasonably required to work outside normal hours,” Mr. Wilcox said.

“These changes were unfortunately added into the mix at the last moment, without being properly thought through, with a view to securing the Greens’ support for the passage of the rest of the legislation.”

Overall, the Australian Industry Group were concerned the industrial relations changes would impact productivity and cause confusion in uncertain times.

“The latest round of industrial relations changes passed by the Senate today are a further handbrake on productivity that will add more complexity, conflict, and rigidity to our workplaces and increase job insecurity for many Australians,” Mr. Wilcox said.

“In an economy facing persistent inflation, rising unemployment, record business closures, rising costs, and global uncertainty, these laws are the last thing we need to navigate uncertain times.

“In many cases, what has been proposed are solutions for problems that do not exist.”

Rushed Parliamentary Debate

During the parliamentary debate on the right to disconnect legislation in the Senate, Labor unsuccessfully tried to make a last minute change after they received legal advice the bill could result in criminal penalty provisions.

Finance Minister Katy Gallagher blamed procedural issues and politics in the Senate for the amendment not getting through.

“It was an amendment that was minutes late in being circulated. So, there’s all these technical, kind of procedural reasons in the Senate,” Ms. Gallagher said on ABC Canberra on Feb. 12.

“It will be fixed up. And look, there’s a lot of interest in the right to disconnect because it is a new kind of feature of the IR system.

“Particularly as we’re living in such a digital and connected world, the demands on people are only going to get greater and there should be some regulation of it.”

Ms. Gallagher conceded that the government needed to work on productivity.

“We absolutely do, but to say that someone can have a position where if a boss is contacting them, and it’s unreasonable, and they’re not at work, that they don’t have any rights to say ‘look, hey, I’m actually on the weekend break,’ is unreasonable as well.

What Legislation Exists Overseas

France implemented the “right to disconnect” into the nation’s Labour Code back in 2017. However, according to The Local, the law does not make it illegal for bosses to email workers after they have finished a shift.

But this law does stop bosses from penalising workers who don’t returned to calls, emails or texts outside working hours.

Spain, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Italy, and Ireland are among other European nations with laws providing workers with the right to disconnect.