“Right to disconnect” legislation stirs controversy

“Right to disconnect” legislation stirs controversy
Image: Alexander Safonov, Shutterstock



Australian employees will now have a legal right to disconnect from work after working hours in a new controversial bill.

The “right to disconnect” was included as an amendment in the Federal Government’s Closing Loopholes Bill, protecting employees who refuse to answer emails or unreasonable work calls in their personal time.

The Senate committee found that some employees were driven to exhaustion from being expected to respond after working hours. The Government also said it was hopeful that the changes would prevent unpaid overtime.

In the committee report, which contained 11 recommendations, Greens Senators said unpaid overtime was an “ubiquitous problem” which has “untold financial, physical, mental and social costs.”

Australians lose about $11,000 each year to unpaid overtime, according to a report released by the Australia Institute in November.

But the move has been controversial, particularly amongst the older generation, who have been calling younger workers “lazy” across social media.

74-year-old Flight Centre chief executive Graham Turner told The Australian Business Worker that the proposed changes were “overkill”.

“If you’re a senior executive you have to accept calls and you certainly would not get a promotion to that sort of level if you didn’t,” he said.

“My gut feeling is that it’s a total over-reaction on something that’s not an issue,” he continued.

Petter Dutton vowed to repeal the “right to disconnect” laws if Coalition wins at the next federal election, saying the laws will damage the relations between employers and employees.”

Dutton told Sky News, “If you think it’s okay to outsource your industrial relations or your economic policy to the Greens, which is what the prime minister is doing, then we are going to see a continuation of the productivity problem in our country.”

While many from the Baby Boomer generation say they had no need to disconnect when they were entering the workforce and working their way up, some are forgetting that there was nothing to disconnect from.

The rise of technology, especially smartphones, has meant that the lines between work and personal time have become increasingly blurred.

The prevalence of these devices in our personal lives, despite their many benefits, has contributed to the expectation that we are available at all times.

In the Senate, there were several concerns about having a legal right to connect, including logistical challenges for businesses and legal disputes brought by workers.

Now that the reforms have passed through the Senate, the legislation will need to pass through the House of Representatives before it becomes law.

But the changes are seemingly imminent, with Labor holding the majority of seats in the lower house, meaning it has enough votes to pass the legislation.

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