Government to remove criminal penalties in right to disconnect

New bill introduced to eliminate 'error' in Australian amendment

Government to remove criminal penalties in right to disconnect

Workplace Minister Tony Burke introduced on Thursday a new bill in Parliament to ensure that the recently passed right to disconnect won't entail criminal penalties for violators.

Under the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2024, a new paragraph will be included in the Fair Work Act to ensure that if a person contravenes the new right to disconnect, it will not expose the violator to a criminal penalty.

"This bill ensures that the right to disconnect, as introduced in the Fair Work Act by our closing loopholes legislation, will operate as it should," Burke told Parliament.

The right to disconnect enables employees to refuse any form of contact from their employer or other work-related contact from third parties outside of their work hours.

"Where disputes about the right to disconnect arise, employers and employees will be able to apply to the Fair Work Commission for stop orders," Burke said.

Previously: Criminal penalties for right to disconnect

The version of the Closing Loopholes Bill that was passed last week garnered criticism from business groups as it didn't remove the "criminal element to the new right to disconnect laws."

"While the error in the bill was apparently inadvertent, the result is a complete mess which adds to the grave misgivings business has about this legislation," said Andrew McKellar, CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in a previous statement.

But Burke clarified that the bill did not explicitly include criminal penalties.

"I don't think it had been deliberately put there in the amendment that was moved but it was worked out that the effect of the amendment would interact with another section of the Bill and therefore there was a pathway where they could potentially be criminal penalties," the minister previously explained to the media.

According to Burke, no member of Parliament supported the application of criminal penalties in the right to disconnect.

"But for reasons I will never understand, coalition members refused to grant leave for this issue to be corrected last Thursday," he noted.

"Despite that, I hope that, now that it is in a separate bill, the coalition—and indeed all members—will now support this legislation which will ensure that criminal penalties do not apply."

The minister said the amendments in the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2024 will take effect at the same time as the other right to disconnect provisions, which is set six months after the royal assent of the closing loopholes legislation.

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