Australia looks set to pass new legislation that will allow workers to ignore calls and messages from their bosses after hours without penalty, making it the latest country to protect workers ‘right to disconnect.’
The provision – aimed at preventing stress and burnout brought on by “availability creep” – is a last-minute amendment to a series of laws proposed by Australia’s Labor government aimed at bolstering workers’ rights.
“What we are simply saying is that someone who isn’t being paid 24 hours a day shouldn’t be penalized if they’re not online and available 24 hours a day,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told reporters Wednesday.
Under the legislation, workers will have the right to “refuse to monitor, read or respond to contact” from their employer outside of their working hours “unless the refusal is unreasonable,” while workplaces that punish employees for not responding could receive financial penalties.
Critics say the new law is an overreach that will hurt business
The legislation has attracted criticism from businesses and opposition lawmakers who call it an “overreach from the government,” The New York Times reported. “Workers already have legal protections against unreasonable working hours,” a senator from the opposition Liberal Party told the newspaper, also voicing concerns about the measures potentially affecting “productivity, jobs, growth and investment” in the Australian economy.
The Business Council of Australia echoed the senator’s response to the legislation, saying in a statement that the bill would create “significant costs” for businesses and result in “less jobs and less opportunities.”
Several European countries already have ‘right to disconnect’ laws
Several countries have already passed laws protecting employees’ right to disconnect, attempting to counter levels of stress and burnout brought about by ever-present mobile devices – a trend accelerated by the post-pandemic shift to remote work.
In 2017 France became the first European country to introduce a law aimed at safeguarding workers’ rights to unplug once they are off work, while Italy has introduced similar provisions for remote workers. Brussels in early 2022 passed a law that would allow its civil servants to switch work devices off after hours without fear of retaliation, the BBC reported, which was then extended to the private sector.
Kenya is the first African country to propose the ‘right to disconnect’ for workers. However, the bill, which passed the Kenyan Senate last August, has triggered opposition from employment groups, with one leader saying the planned changes “negate the essence of freedom and realities of the labor market.”