Australia is set to introduce a progressive labour law known as the "Right to Disconnect", enabling employees to disengage from work-related communications beyond their designated work hours.
Spearheaded by the Labour government, the legislation seeks to safeguard workers' well-being and promote a healthier work-life balance amid the digital age's relentless connectivity.
The proposed amendment grants employees the autonomy to decline monitoring or responding to employer communications outside of their official working hours, unless such refusal is deemed unreasonable.
While employers retain the prerogative to contact their staff after hours, the law aims to shield employees from adverse consequences for prioritising personal time.
Employers must navigate various factors to gauge the reasonableness of contacting employees after hours, including the purpose and frequency of communication, the nature of the employee's role, compensation arrangements, and familial responsibilities. The legislation aims to strike a balance between operational needs and employees' rights to leisure and downtime.
The legislation provides avenues for employees to address unreasonable employer demands or punitive actions resulting from after-hours disengagement.
Workers are encouraged to communicate concerns with employers initially, with unresolved issues eligible for review by the Fair Work Commission (FWC).
FWC intervention may entail stop orders to curtail unreasonable demands or punitive measures.
Proponents of the 'Right to Disconnect' emphasise its potential to mitigate burnout, enhance work-life balance, and curtail unpaid overtime, which contributes significantly to economic losses.
Critics, however, express apprehensions about potential job losses and heightened workplace disputes, cautioning against regulatory overreach.
Australia joins a cohort of nations, including France, Italy, Spain and Ireland, in enacting 'Right to Disconnect' legislation.
These laws aim to protect workers' downtime, uphold privacy rights, and mitigate the encroachment of work into personal life.
In a post-pandemic world where work-from-home positions have become somewhat of the norm and technology has crept into every aspect of our lives, a blanket ban on communication outside of ordinary working hours is not a practical solution, specifically not in South Africa which is seeking to compete with both developed and developing countries for a slice of global trade.
Speaking to BusinessTech, Lauren Salt, an executive in ENSafrica’s employment department said that “in practice, large employers do seem to address whether employees would be required to work or be available after hours, even in the absence of a statutory obligation to do so”.
“However,” Salt continued, “employers generally may, in future, start to see pushback during the negotiation of employment agreements, especially with millennials and Gen Zs entering the job market.”