Australia Introduces Workers’ ‘Right to Disconnect’

When it’s after hours, and the boss is on the line, Australian workers — already among the world’s best-rested and most personally fulfilled employees — can soon press “decline” in favor of the seductive call of the beach.

In yet another buttress against the scourge of overwork, Australia’s Senate on Thursday passed a bill giving workers the right to ignore calls and messages outside of working hours without fear of repercussion. It will now return to the House of Representatives for final approval.

The new bill, which is expected to pass in the House with ease, will let Australian workers refuse “unreasonable” professional communication outside of the workday. Workplaces that punish employees for not responding to such demands could be fined.

“Someone who is not being paid 24 hours a day shouldn’t be penalized if they’re not online and available 24 hours a day,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said at a news conference on Wednesday.

The provision is a last-minute amendment to a package of proposed legal changes aimed at strengthening workers’ rights. The legislation, which also includes protections for temporary workers looking to become more permanent, and new standards for gig workers, such as food delivery drivers, had been heavily debated.

Australia follows in the footsteps of European nations such as France, which in 2017 introduced the right of workers to disconnect from employers while off duty, a move later emulated by Germany, Italy and Belgium. The European Parliament has also called for a law across the bloc that would alleviate the pressure on workers to answer communications off the clock.

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