Australians Don’t Have the Right to Switch Off After Work — The Greens Want to Provide It

The Greens are proposing legislation that will give Australians the right to disconnect from work out of hours.

How often do you find yourself checking emails, answering calls, or responding to urgent questions outside of work hours? In Australia, there is no protection for workers that enables them to completely disconnect from work.

As technology has improved, the lines between work and the rest of our lives have blurred, enabling us to work remotely and at any time. But this ‘work creep‘ is also detrimental to our mental health and leaves us feeling like we’re constantly ‘on’. However, the Greens have a plan to change that.

On Tuesday, they introduced legislation that would give workers legal protections over not answering emails, calls, or other messages after hours unless they are paid to do so or it’s a genuine emergency.

Known as the ‘Right to Disconnect’ bill, the proposal is an amendment to the Fair Work Act. It was also recommended by the Greens Senator, Barbara Pocock. After chairing the Work and Care Senate Inquiry, Pocock wants to modernise Australia’s working conditions.

The Greens Leader, Adam Bandt, introduced the private members’ bill, saying it was essential to improve the mental health of Australians.

“Technology has seen work creep into personal time. If you’re not getting paid for it, you should be able to ignore the work texts and emails that arrive after hours. Switching off and disconnecting from work is vital for your health and work-life balance,” Bandt said.

Pocock, who is also the Employment Spokesperson for the Greens, has said that employment law has become too outdated for the ways we work now.

“Most of our working arrangements were put in place when households typically consisted of a male breadwinner with a female working to maintain a home and provide care for the family,” she said.

“We need to recognise that households are now run with at least two working adults who are increasingly sharing household and caring duties in addition to their working lives”.

Pocock further noted that “availability creep,” where workers feel like they have to be available to respond to work responsibilities, is taking a toll on mental health.

“Degraded relationships and distracted carers are some of the consequences of workers feeling they should be available at all hours,” she said.

The Greens have been pushing for these changes amongst a raft of other workplace reforms following the Senate Inquiry in October. The government is currently working on a second set of employment reforms that the Greens are hoping to amend. The Greens’ numbers will be needed in the Senate in order to pass this legislation.

Such rights to disconnect are in place in France, Germany,  and Ireland. They also have momentum behind them across the European Union.

What’s more, Australian Unions has recommended the policy, with ACTU Secretary Sally McManus noting that the changes would most benefit women, who are frequently disrupted during childcare, and teachers, who are expected to answer parent’s questions around the clock.

Bandt has said that he is hoping Labor will support their amendment after the Greens helped to pass the first round of the government’s workplace reforms.

Related: You Have the Right to Disconnect: Employees Are Being Freed From 24/7 Digital Availability

Related: A New 5-Year Gov Report Says We’re Eventually Going to Get Paid Less and Work More

Read more stories from The Latch and subscribe to our email newsletter.