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Australia’s ‘Right to Disconnect’ Bill: What businesses need to know

Australia's 'Right to Disconnect' Bill: What businesses need to know
Australia's 'Right to Disconnect' Bill: What businesses need to know

With the ‘Right to Disconnect’ Bill (Closing Loopholes No.2) passed in both Houses of Parliament in Australia, legal experts warn businesses to consider contracts carefully. 

Allens, an international law firm with offices in Australia, warns employers to “carefully consider the kinds of out-of-hours contact with employees that are likely to occur in their business.”

The bill is not effective yet, as it’s awaiting approval from the Royal Assent. Only six months after that will it have a bearing on labor regulations.  

Earlier this month, a landmark decision was made that has a significant bearing on the work conditions of gig economy workers. A gig economy worker uses a mobile app to connect individuals by providing customer service. It heavily impacts the logistics and delivery sector as it includes on-demand workers. 

The bill stipulates that employees will have the ‘Right to Disconnect.’ This means “generally allowing an employee to refuse contact or attempted contact from their employer outside the employee’s working hours.”

An employee, therefore, may refuse to “monitor, read or respond to contact or attempted contact, from an employer outside of the employee’s working hours unless the refusal is unreasonable.”

This act aims to improve Australian workers’ mental health and work balance, says BNN. “Employers are now tasked with reevaluating their operational strategies to align with this updated legal framework, which promises to redefine workplace norms across the continent.”

Gig economy workers in the spotlight

Gig economy workers have greater flexibility in their daily work hours. This makes it ideal for some to use it as an extra income. According to Australia’s Fair Work Ombudsman, it could be anyone working for an e-hailing service, conducting deliveries. However it includes anyone working for a fee like graphic designers, or odd job like painting a house.

In September, when the first part of the Closing Loopholes Bill was introduced, it triggered fierce debate among businesses and labor. The Business Council of Australia warned that the changes will be disruptive, while workplace relations minister Tony Burke said there is nothing wrong with criminalizing wage theft.

How can businesses prepare? 

Allens law firm gives businesses advice by suggesting to “undertake a mapping exercise.” This helps to determine whether their workforce might be impacted by these changes. This would also include the different sectors of the supply chains. There is a need to “develop appropriate strategies” to mitigate the changes, which could be implemented soon this year.  

The firm further suggests:

  • Determine which employees are impacted by the new act. 
  • Assess whether the employment contract should be updated.
  • Review guidelines on the operation of these provisions, which the Commission will publish. 
  • Carefully review the difference between reasonable and unreasonable refusal to respond to contact. 

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About the author

Mia is a multi-award-winning journalist. She has more than 14 years of experience in mainstream media. She's covered many historic moments that happened in Africa and internationally. She has a strong focus on human interest stories, to bring her readers and viewers closer to the topics at hand.

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