Right to disconnect: Will employers take the next step?

Unions are calling for organisations to adopt the measure

Right to disconnect: Will employers take the next step?

Is the right to disconnect the antithesis of the right to work flexibility? That’s a question employers in Australia may soon have to tackle with their staff. Unions in the public sector are now lobbying for employees’ right to decline calls and messages from their bosses that fall outside their work hours. The right to disconnect, which was first instituted in France in response to the “always on” modern work culture, is currently making headlines in Australia after Victoria police staff successfully negotiated its inclusion in their contracts. The provision means managers cannot force workers to take a call except in emergency situations.

Read more: Employees feel more stressed when forced to 'unplug' from work

Other labour groups are exploring the possibility of making the right to disconnect a fixture in employment agreements. “This is especially important for people who perform psychologically stressful work,” said Sally McManus, secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

“If work invades all hours of your life and you cannot disconnect, it is a recipe for serious problems for both the worker and the employer,” McManus said. “Without clear boundaries separating work and the rest of your life, working people can be both expected to work extra unpaid hours and be subject to a job that is at high risk of mental health problems.”

In France, the regulation mandates employers with more than 50 workers establish which hours they are allowed to contact their teams. While the provision has been incorporated into the Labour Code, businesses and their staff members still have some flexibility in setting out the terms of the provision. Arrangements can be made based on the nature of the business or role of the workers.

Read more: How the 'always on' culture is impacting you

The increasing use of digital tools, especially in the age of remote and hybrid working, may have blurred the boundaries between work and personal time. As Professor Emmanuel Josserand of the University of Technology Sydney recently told ABC News, employers are bound to ask: “Can we contact workers on their mobile, or by SMS, by email when they’re actually not at work?”

“What about flexible work arrangements? Where does it stop? Where does it end?” he said. “What can I ask my employees to do if they’re not at work physically, or if it’s not working hours?”

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