SINGAPORE: Workers in Australia will soon score a big win after a law giving them the “right to disconnect” was introduced. Simply put, they can ignore work-related calls and emails after business hours.

Employees in Australia will not be penalized for letting work calls or emails go unanswered, and employers who breach the law may potentially be subject to fines.

“The right to disconnect is the idea that employers shouldn’t require employees to perform any work-related duties outside their set work hours. The concept suggests workers have the right to a personal life that isn’t interrupted by tasks, such as answering messages or completing projects, once they’ve ‘clocked out’ for the day,” the People Keep site explains.

This “right to disconnect” is just one among a number of changes to work-related laws proposed by the federal government under a parliamentary bill for the sake of protecting the rights of workers as well as aiding in restoring work-life balance.

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Over the past decade, several European Union nations have adopted “right to disconnect” policies, with France being an early adopter in 2017. Spain and Belgium have since followed suit. Other governments across the globe are reportedly considering following suit.

The amendments to industrial relations legislation will likely be passed soon after a deal between the government, the Australian Greens party and independent senators were struck last Wednesday (Feb 7).

The right to disconnect gives workers the right to “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.”

Employers’ attempts to reach workers after working hours could be referred to Australia’s Fair Work Commission.

Mr Adam Bandt, the leader of the Greens party, said in a statement last week, “By winning workers a right to disconnect, we have reclaimed the weekend for millions of people who need that time off.”

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In Singapore, back in 2020, Member of Parliament Melvin Yong (Radin Mas) called for the government to consider a similar “Right to Disconnect” legislation.

“Let me reassure critics that I am not calling for rigid laws that specify working hours, nor am I calling for Singaporeans to be less productive, and certainly not for Singapore to be any less competitive,” he said, adding, “It is simply about ensuring that our workers have protected time to rest.

Mr Yong, also an assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress, cited a Stanford University study that said people who work beyond 55 hours weekly showed a steep decline in productivity per hour.

“Well-rested employees are more productive, more careful, and are better able to contribute creatively at the workplace,” said Mr Yong. /TISG

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