29 February 2024
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Take me to lunch but don’t call me out of hours!

Peter Switzer
8 February 2024

PM Albanese seems to be looking for policies that might appeal to the people who might be Labor voters, with his decision to back the Greens inspired “right to disconnect from work” laws. Despite some support for the Coalition’s fight against the change from the crossbench, it looks like employers ringing employees out of work hours could become a punishable offence under industrial relations laws!

The Guardian’s Paul Karp reports that the “… Jacqui Lambie Network, United Australia party and One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts voted with the Coalition…” but “Labor won the final two Senate votes for the bill from the independents Lidia Thorpe and David Pocock.”

Cheering from the front was Greens leader Adam Bandt, who threw his support behind the IR bill after it won the right to ‘disconnect’. This means that “when you clock off, you’ll be able to switch off”.

But what seems a little weird is this comment from Bandt that “Unless you are getting paid for it … you should be able to ignore those calls and those messages that come in.”

Of course, this law is good for containing the pain-in-the-neck boss who has no regard for a worker’s life outside work. But won’t important highly paid employees have it written into their contracts that if circumstances are deemed important, you could be contacted outside work hours?

Many employees are paid over the award or above average salary levels because they’re expected to go above and beyond normal hours for the sake of the business and possibly for the sake of the jobs of many peoples!

And what if it was a life or death matter?

The Greens’ Barbara Pocock explained to The Guardian a case in point that she thought justified this labour law change: “The right to disconnect has to be enforceable,” she said. “A worker has got to have some backup when they say, ‘that’s not OK to contact me seven times on a Sunday’, as a nurse recently said to me, [in an instance of] unpaid contact.”

Seven times is over-the-top, but what if there was a patient who was having a worrying reaction after receiving possibly the wrong dose of medicine by that nurse enjoying a day at the beach?

Meanwhile the laws pertaining to the gig economy have been changed at the behest of David Pocock and Jacqui Lambie, such that the protections offered to these deemed casual workers will be made more optionable. So, if a gig worker wants to be a casual and determine when they work, they can do that.

Under these new IR rules, if gig workers work set hours and days and look more like a part-time or full-time worker, they can throw off their ‘gig’ tag.

This will become a cost-plus implication on delivery services and will either add to the cost for a consumer, reduce the profits of businesses offering deliveries and/or reduce the demand for deliveries and delivery workers.

Clearly, the unions have masterminded these changes and it’s what they’re set up to do i.e., get more wages for their members or potential members. However, these actions remind me of a lesson I learnt at university many decades ago, from a left-wing but objective IR academic.

He explained that unions don’t represent the unemployed, even if their industrial actions helped create the status of those work-less workers!

All up, these IR changes are voter-friendly for a big chunk of the 14.2 million workers/voters who populate Australia’s workforce.

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