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Right to disconnect: Australia moves to stop unpaid overtime

By Jake Beardslee · February 8, 2024

In brief…

  • Australia proposes new laws giving workers right to disconnect from work outside hours
  • Laws aim to restore work-life balance and stop unpaid overtime
  • Rules would prohibit employers from penalizing workers who ignore off-hour contacts
  • Legislation has support but also faces criticism from some businesses and politicians
Australia is proposing new labor laws that would give workers the legal right to disconnect from their jobs and ignore employer contacts during off-hours.  Dietmar Rabich/Wikimedia

Australia is poised to give employees the legal “right to disconnect” from work outside of normal hours. New industrial relations laws proposed by the federal government would make it illegal for employers to penalize workers who ignore calls or messages during off-hours. Companies that violate the rule could face fines.

The “right to disconnect” provision is part of a broader effort to update Australia’s labor laws and restore work-life balance. Similar measures have already been enacted in France, Spain and other European Union countries. The proposed Australian law has won the backing of a majority of senators, according to Employment Minister Tony Burke.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the goal is to stop unpaid overtime. “What we are simply saying is that someone who isn’t being paid 24 hours a day shouldn’t be penalised if they’re not online and available 24 hours a day,” he told reporters. The legislation is expected to be introduced in parliament this week.

Some business groups and politicians have warned the right to disconnect rule goes too far and will undermine flexible schedules. But supporter say it’s a needed protection for workers. The left-leaning Greens party, which first proposed the idea last year, called it a major win.

“Australians work an average of six weeks unpaid overtime each year,” said Greens leader Adam Bandt in a post on X. “That equates to more than $92 billion in unpaid wages across the economy. That time is yours. Not your boss’.”

The bill also contains other measures like clearer paths from temporary to permanent employment and minimum standards for temporary and truck drivers. A deal was reached between the ruling Labor party, smaller parties and independents to back the legislation.