(Bloomberg) — New laws designed to stop Australian bosses from contacting their workers after hours aim to limit the amount of unpaid overtime for staff, Employment Minister Tony Burke said Sunday, adding the government was consulting business groups over the proposed change.
Burke said the planned legislation, known as the “right to disconnect,” is scheduled to be debated in parliament this week as part of a package in a broader overhaul of industrial relations changes. Similar rules preventing employers from contacting staff after hours are in place in countries including France and Spain. Businesses worldwide are grappling with the rise in flexible work in wake of the Covid pandemic.
“There are some workplaces where effectively people are working a whole lot of hours unpaid because they’re expected to be permanently on call,” Burke told Sky News Australia, while conceding there were challenges to work through. The minister said he was still negotiating cross-bench support.
The Greens had pushed for the “right to disconnect” amendment as part of negotiations over proposed industrial relations changes. It was also recommended by a Senate committee.
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“We are also very much aware there are reasonable grounds for an employer to want to contact their workers outside of hours,” Burke said. “We have to make sure that’s protected as well.” Protections included calling someone when a shift hasn’t been filled, or sending emails after hours that did not require an immediate response. “You want to make sure you’re not suddenly putting a pressure on business thinking, ‘oh, am I going to be fined?’”
The Business Council previously described the right to disconnect as a “surprise change” to the government’s broader suite of industrial relations reforms.
The Australian Industry Group, which represents employers, said the amendment had come “out of nowhere”. “This can’t all be settled within a potentially sort of five days until this legislation is possibly passed,” Chief Executive Innes Willox told local broadcaster ABC. “That’s just a ridiculous time frame, it’s going to take time to work it out.”
He said if someone was not paid for work out of hours, “that’s a problem and that shouldn’t happen” but there must be balance. “Does an employee just have a right when the fire alarm’s going off at work and they’ve got the code to not answer the phone?”
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