Sick Of After Work Emails? Adam Bandt Reckons We Need Better Digital Working Rights

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Pretending to pay attention to the endless activity in your work’s Slack channel after hours could soon become a thing of the past, as Australia takes the first steps to enshrine our right to disconnect.

As anyone who’s received an email from their manager titled “URGENT” at 7:00 pm on a Friday night knows, work hours often extend far beyond 9-5. While technology like Zoom and Slack has made work comms way easier, these platforms have also enabled work to claim a bold new foothold in our personal lives.

In response to this encroachment into our precious time after work, there’s been a growing movement to protect workers who don’t feel like being communicated by their employers while they’re not being paid, known as the right to disconnect. Originating in France back in 2001, the right to disconnect has been adopted by many countries including Italy, Slovakia, Canada, and the Philippines — now politicians in Australia are even considering it.

“Australia’s laws haven’t kept up with the spread of technology,” Leader of the Greens Party Adam Bandt tells Junkee. “I mean, our workplace laws were drafted at a time when people didn’t have mobile phones and readily available means of communication.”

This week the Greens are proposing to amend Australian employment laws to legally enshrine the “right to disconnect”, granting employees protections for ignoring communication from work after hours. Bandt argues that the right to uninterrupted downtime after work needs to be extended nationally to ensure everyone from white-collar office workers to shift workers who are expected to follow last-minute roster changes.

“If you are expected to be available on call all the time, it affects your personal life, your home life, and your family life. It makes people less healthy and puts additional stress on people to be always on and always available. This is about making people’s lives better and changing the expectation of bosses, who shouldn’t be able to expect that people are available outside of working hours if they’re not getting paid for it.”

As discussed during a Greens-led Senate committee last year on work and care, the inquiry recommended a suite of changes from ensuring workers are protected from declining extra shifts at late notice to trialling a four-day work week. Bandt argues that the right to disconnect is just the first step needed to make Australian employment suitable for modern work.

“People are increasingly being expected not just to be available out of hours, but often to work more hours than are necessary to actually get their job done,” Bandt says. “Workplace arrangements have changed a lot and have started to shift towards an expectation that anyone could be available online at any point anywhere. We need to reset post-pandemic and ensure that people have the right to switch off.”

The Greens will present the legislation as a private members bill today, which they are hopeful will pass with Labor’s support.