According to the Better Life Index, Australia is the seventh-worst country in the OECD for work-life balance. We work longer hours and enjoy less leisure and personal care time than the vast majority of OECD countries and what's even more concerning is that we have been trending down on this scale since 2005.
The right to disconnect currently being debated in the houses of parliament is therefore a vital step towards trying to restore some semblance of balance to working Australians' lives.
Demonstrating the power of independent and minor party representatives in government, the Labor deal with the crossbench to pass its industrial relations amendment bill through the Senate has seen the attachment of a right for Australians to disconnect from work.
The change has the potential to significantly impact Australian workers' work-life balance and potentially improve our position on the OECD Better Life Index.
Unsurprisingly, the "opposition" leader, Peter Dutton, vehemently opposes the bill, specifically slamming the addition of the "right to disconnect" negotiated by the Greens with Labor in exchange for their support in the Senate.
Mr Dutton has gone so far as to pledge to repeal the changes to the bill if re-elected to the government, citing the right to disconnect will disrupt productivity, damage relations between employers and employees, and that the addition of this right for Australian workers demonstrates Labor is "outsourcing policy to the Greens".
However, the negative impact of being constantly available for your employer has a much more lasting impact on both employee wellbeing and workplace productivity.
Constant availability via phone, email and text with your workplace can lead to a blurring of lines between work and personal life. This can have a significant impact on an employee's personal relationships, family life, their ability to unwind and rest, and their overall wellbeing. Feeling pressure to always be available can also lead to exhaustion, decreased motivation, burnout and lowered workplace morale, not to mention a burgeoning resentment for their employer.
Guess what this leads to?
Reduced productivity and damage to relations between employers and employees. Insert eyeroll here.
The proposed laws allow employers to still contact staff on reasonable grounds such as urgent/emergency issues and with relation to shifts - it is not a blanket ban. However, the law does support the idea that a person's time outside of their scheduled work hours belongs to them - as it should.
MORE ZOE WUNDENBERG:
What concerns me the most about this political situation is that Mr Dutton appears to be in opposition to the bill for all the wrong reasons: if his claims about its impacts to hurting productivity and damaging relations are arguably unsubstantiated, then I am left to wonder if he is just representing the Liberal Party corporate sponsors and taking the opportunity in doing so, to whinge about the influence of non-major parties on law-making. It certainly seems that he is not acting in the best interests of the people he has been elected to represent.
Yet again, we find ourselves facing a case of oppositional defiance politics. Labor says one thing, therefore the Liberals must say the opposite. However, all this has served to demonstrate is that the era for the major party duopoly is well and truly over, despite the tantrums of those clinging to the last tendrils of traditional political power.
Mr Dutton quoted the Reserve Bank governor stating that the importance of addressing the productivity "issue" in Australia is key to avoiding interest rate rises. However, this "productivity issue" is hardly new - growth in this area has been fairly low for decades, with a decline in business dynamism slowing the rate of innovation and technology adoption by businesses being considered the main reasons for this.
Being unable to contact Joe Bloggs about work on a Sunday afternoon is hardly the card that is causing the house to fall.
Mr Dutton has committed to repealing the "right to disconnect" laws if the coalition wins the next federal election. Perhaps instead of stamping his feet and blaming the influence of non-major party influence with the abhorrent intention of protecting the wellbeing of the Australian workers, he could consider investing his time in something more ... productive.
- Zoë Wundenberg is a careers consultant and un/employment advocate at impressability.com.au, and a regular columnist for ACM. She occasionally volunteers for Voices of Farrar but her opinions are her own.