Last week, SafeWork New South Wales progressed the management of psychosocial hazards at work with the release of its Designing Work to Manage Psychosocial Risks guidance. This document has been a long time coming and offers significant advice on how work and people management needs to change in order to prevent psychosocial hazards. However, its implementation is likely to generate considerable opposition and confusion, or even organisational shock, if it is not able to convince employers of increased profitability and productivity from making the change.
There is a curious development in the current discussion in Australia about the newly introduced Right-To-Disconnect (RTD). Many are conflating RTD with Working From Home (WFH) – two separate but slightly overlapping changes to the world of work – which is impeding valid and necessary discussion.
Working From Home largely emerged as a response to the coronavirus pandemic and used flimsy work structures to provide business continuity. The WFH arrangements would have been unlikely to have been so widespread without the federal government’s investment in the National Broadband Network and the commercial growth in mobile phone communication infrastructure. However, that same infrastructure and investment have contributed to the problem that Right-To-Disconnect is intended to address.
Last week, the Australian Parliament passed workplace relations legislation that included a Right-To-Disconnect.
The Australian Greens announced on February 7, 2024, that the Right-To-Disconnect (RTD) bill would pass Parliament as part of workplace relations reforms. On February 8, 2024, the mainstream media wrote as if the laws had already been passed. However, several issues with these laws indicate they are unlikely to be applied in practice as widely as advocates claim and in the way anticipated.
The closer the RTD laws come to reality, the more useless they appear.
Denise Zumpe is an Australian occupational health and safety (OHS) professional who focuses on workplace health and safety matters in the transport sector. Below is a letter that she intended to send to The Age and writer Esther Linder outlining some inaccuracies in an Australian Associated Press article (paywalled) concerning the jailing of Cris Large, a court case discussed in an earlier SafetyAtWorkBlog article.
“A former transport executive has been jailed for up to three years for his reckless workplace behaviour in the lead-up to a crash that killed four police officers on Melbourne’s Eastern Freeway.”
The AAP article appeared in a number of Australian media. An amended version appeared on ABC News.
This week, the Australian Parliament debates further workplace relations legislative system changes. These will have occupational health and safety (OHS) impacts, usually indirectly; however, one clear OHS element in the proposed legislation is the Right-to-Disconnect.
This change has been a long time coming and has clear and proven mental health and social benefits for workers, but you won’t hear much of the OHS justification in the media. Most of the business opposition has been alarmist noise claiming the world will end. According to the Australian Financial Review (AFR) editorial on February 1 2024. Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke:
Many workers have a working week that includes more hours than they were contracted for. This is often described as “unpaid overtime”, which is a misnomer as “overtime” traditionally involves being paid a higher rate of income to compensate for making one available beyond or “over” regular business hours. Unpaid overtime can also be considered employer- and employee-endorsed exploitation and lead to industrial disputes, as junior doctors recently showed in Victoria.
Since 2006, the West Australian government has had a Code of Practice for Working Hours, with supporting documents such as risk management guidelines. This level of prescription could be applicable in supporting and clarifying newly-emphasised occupational health and safety (OHS) duties for psychosocially healthy work.