Right to disconnect: Bosses lose it over new IR laws letting staff happily IGNORE their bosses’ calls when they ring after hours: ‘Is this the way to way to drive our country forward?’

Bosses are fuming at the Albanese government’s ‘right to disconnect’ rules in new workplace laws that will see bosses fined for contacting employees out of hours to do unpaid labour. 

The provisions have been inserted in the government’s ‘Closing Loopholes’ Bill in order to get the nod from the Greens and so will be passed by parliament this week, after Senate crossbencher David Pocock also backed the new laws. 

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief Andrew McKellar called the new laws ‘ridiculous’ and ‘a triumph of stupidity over common sense’, arguing that after-hours contact was best left to be decided by employers and employees.

‘You know, this is a bit of a thought bubble from the Greens,’ Mr McKellar told Sky News host Christ Kenny on Wednesday night.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief Andrew McKellar says the ‘right to disconnect’ provisions in Labor’s new workplace laws ‘are ridiculous’

‘I mean the idea that we need to legislate for these sorts of things. Of course, it’s obvious this should be something that is able to be discussed between employers and employees.

‘In many enterprise agreements now we are seeing that there are perfectly sensible provisions, arrangements for how these sorts of contact arrangements should be made.

‘We’ve got to get the balance right. But, clearly there’s no need for government to be imposing itself here with legislation with penalties.’   

Mr McKellar argued the new provisions would particularly hamper small to medium-sized businesses.

‘I mean, the world of work is changing. We’ve seen huge transformation coming out of the pandemic and the response to that,’ he said.

‘We need to look at, how we’re going to innovate in this space. But then to be trying to tie businesses, small businesses, medium-sized businesses in knots, over how they manage these things…’

Perth Lord Mayor and aspiring state Liberal candidate Basil Zempilas also weighed into the debate. 

Perth Lord Mayor and aspiring state Liberal candidate Basil Zempilas made it clear he is also not a fan of the new laws

Perth Lord Mayor and aspiring state Liberal candidate Basil Zempilas made it clear he is also not a fan of the new laws

‘Is this the way to drive our country forward?,’ he tweeted as a comment about the new laws being spruiked by Greens leader Adam Bandt.  

‘Is this the spirit with which we built our great nation? Is this the attitude which has meant good people can work hard and get ahead? I think not.’ 

Mr Bandt set out his arguments for the ‘right to disconnect’ on X (formerly Twitter).

‘Your boss shouldn’t be able to unreasonably contact you 24/7 if you’re not paid for it,’ he tweeted.

‘We know it’s bad for stress, health, & relationships – which is why France and over 20 other countries have legislated to protect work-life balance. 

‘We’re about to do the same.

‘Australians work an average of 6 weeks unpaid overtime each year, equal to over $92 billion in unpaid wages across the economy. That time is yours. Not your boss’.’ 

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese also defended the right to disconnect provisions on Wednesday.

‘What we’re simply saying is that someone who isn’t being paid 24 hours a day shouldn’t be penalised if they’re not online and available 24 hours a day,’ Mr Albanese said.

While workers currently face being disciplined or fired for ignoring their bosses, the new law will protect their jobs if they do so outside of working hours.

Under the proposed new laws, employers that demand their workers do unpaid overtime could be fined

Under the proposed new laws, employers that demand their workers do unpaid overtime could be fined

Employers that breach the rule could be fined.

Similar laws giving employees a right to switch off their devices are already in place in France, Spain, Ireland and other countries in the European Union.

However, Business Council of Australia chief executive Bran Black argued that in Australia such legislation could cause difficulties for employers with staff working in different time zones.

‘This could be devastating for businesses across Australia and cause chaos for Western Australian businesses particularly if employees could only have communication with east coast colleagues in the narrow window between east coast business hours and those in the west,’ Mr Black told the Australian Financial Review.

‘Imagine if employees in Sydney or Melbourne were banned from emailing an employee in Perth until midday to align with WA time, or if a Perth manager would be breaching the law in providing an update to his or her east coast colleagues after 2pm.’

Employee Matters workplace expert Natasha Hawker claimed the majority of workers aren’t rallying behind the proposed legislation.

‘I don’t think it should be a one-size-fits-all approach,’ she told Channel Seven’s Sunrise earlier in the week.

‘So many Australian workers at the moment are really happy about working from home and they realise that flexibility works both ways. And so therefore, they’re quite happy to have that.’

Ms Hawker also warned about the extra administration it would force onto businesses due to a ‘double up’, with legislation already introduced last year forcing every business to survey their employees.

She said if out-of-work hours contact was a problem ‘that would come out of the survey if this was an issue and then you would deal with it then and most employers haven’t actually done that survey yet’, adding that already put employers ‘at risk of fines’.

The expert added that ‘since Covid (the power in the workplace has) changed. We’re in the tightest applicant market we’ve been in for many years.

‘So employees that don’t get what they want, actually vote with their feet and they leave and we are still finding it incredibly difficult to recruit at the moment for top talent.’

Because of the tight hiring market, Ms Hawker said businesses that contact employees out of hours too often could find that ‘it may work against them in the end’.

Ultimately, she said ‘this is just another piece of legislation that they’re going to have to get their head around and comply with if it, if it passes’.

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