If your boss calls or emails you outside work hours, do you reply? Too many of us do.
Australian Unions have recognised how the working from home requirement during the pandemic has exacerbated a problem across the workforce: the struggle to disconnect.
ACTU secretary Sally McManus noted the disproportionate effect these blurred boundaries had on certain segments of the working population.
“Protection for workers’ right to disconnect outside of working hours is necessary not only for workers’ mental wellbeing, but to also make sure that workers with caring responsibilities – who are mostly women – don’t fall unfairly behind their colleagues in terms of pay, advancement and promotion,” she said.
Australian Education Union ACT branch secretary Patrick Judge has seen on-the-ground how around-the-clock demands on teachers’ time can become seriously detrimental.
“Teachers were expected to respond to late night emails from students and parents,” he said.
“Supervisors were sending text messages to staff asking them to pick up textbooks at sales on the weekend. Teachers would take sick leave only to be bombarded by calls”.
But Australian Unions have put the front foot forward to push for the right to disconnect.
The Charter is for both employers and employees.
“If working from home arrangements are done responsibly, it can benefit both the worker and the employer, as has become clear through the levels of productivity that many employers are seeing,” said Ms McManus.
Mr Judge said that thanks to unionists taking collective action and their united bargaining power, some have already taken steps to implement the right to disconnect.
Such changes included, “conducting walk-arounds at 5:30pm to ensure that staff had left for the day.”
“Another school issued an all-staff direction not to communicate out of hours about work matters, except in the case of an emergency,” he said.
These initiatives would not have taken place without the effort of the union movement.
“If a school has a strong and active union presence, the right is well-enforced,” Mr Judge said.
“In weaker, lower-density schools, the overwork issues have a way of creeping back in.”
Ms McManus has said that Australian Unions will continue to lead the charge in ensuring all workplaces are introducing these positive measures.
“Unions will continue to push for a right to disconnect as stipulated in our Working From Home Charter of Rights,” she said.