Topics: Industrial relations legislation; right to disconnect
Gary Adshead: Let’s have a go now and have a chat to Andrew McKellar, the Chief Executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Thanks for your time, Andrew.
Andrew McKellar: Thanks, Gary. Great to be with you.
Gary Adshead: Light touch legislation. Do you agree?
Andrew McKellar: Well, we don’t, and of course this has been really foisted upon the Parliament at the last minute. Literally this amendment, the legislation has only been available for people to scrutinise from late last night, early this morning. So this has been potentially put through the Parliament almost sight unseen. So no evidence, no case, has been put together. I mean if you’re listening the other day to Senator Jackie Lambie, she was saying in more than 10 years in the Australian Parliament, nobody, none of her constituents, no business, no employee had ever raised this issue with her. And I think she’s not alone in that boat. It just seems that this is a thought bubble that the Australian Greens have put together. And by this afternoon it could be the law of the land.
Even if what Barbara Pocock said there about for most employers, it’s not an issue for most employees, it’s not an issue. Any business now, when this becomes the law, is going to have to go through the red tape, the compliance to make sure that they’re abiding by this legislation. So the idea that this just doesn’t have any impact for most people, for most businesses, it’s not the case. When you create a law, business has an obligation to make sure they’re complying. And I think that’s red tape that many small businesses are going to have to struggle with.
Gary Adshead: And big businesses, because I’ll put it this way, I mean you hit the nail on the head there because all companies will have to look at whether they need to make sure that the people they’re signing up or have on their books are prepared to waive the right to disconnect. And I mean people in our industry, in journalism, broadcasting, I mean seriously? That I would not expect that sometimes I’m going to be called out of hours in relation to matters. I mean it’s a nonsense. So all companies are going to have to look at this and say, right, do I need to tell Bob that I need him to waive his right?
Andrew McKellar: That’s absolutely right. This is the thing. There is a compliance burden there. Every company, when you bring in legislation like this, you’ve got to look at your due diligence, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got the policies and procedures in place. It’s not light touch. At the end of this, there’s a prospect that this is going to get written into awards. That brings with it the risk of penalties if you aren’t complying. So there’s a potential financial cost at the end of all of this. So the idea that this is in some way, some sort of a light touch thing, it really is putting aside common sense. It means that we are trying to regulate in this space something that ought to be really applied as common sense. And in many cases, of course, businesses are doing this in their enterprise agreements but now have to go down this approach, it really is an overreach.
Gary Adshead: I mean there’ll be people, this won’t come across very well, but I’ll say it, there are plenty of workers out there that’ll be happy to game the system with this one as well. There are people out there that sort of make sure that they use their maximum number of sick days and so on. They can fudge it as much as they want and they will use this to do the same. No, no, I have a right to disconnect. Now, have you asked the Coalition whether they’ll wind this back?
Andrew McKellar: Well, look, we’re having discussions with the Coalition. We’re having discussions with the cross-bench senators, obviously. I think the Opposition has made it very clear they don’t support this. They are concerned by it. Of course, if this goes through as legislation, as we expect there’s now a deal on it, then ultimately it’s going to be up to future governments, future parliaments to see whether this is working, whether it’s necessary or not. Unfortunately, in the short term, the government seems to have the numbers. And from this afternoon, this very well could be the law of the land. And that’s what we’ve got to deal with.
Gary Adshead: And the other point, if we just talk about it in a sort of a holistic way, people who want to get ahead in the world, they’ll do those sort of things outside of the normal working hours because they’re trying to impress, set an example. And they’re trying to show that they’re prepared to go above and beyond. I mean is that no longer the sentiment here, Australia, it’s like, do as little as you can and that’s enough?
Andrew McKellar: Well, it seems to be very much the approach that the Greens are seeking to push on business, on employees here. And of course you’re right. I mean many people are flexible. We are looking to try and provide more flexibility in the way we work. I think it’s come out of the pandemic. We have all of this talk now about not necessarily having people in the office every day of the week or in the workplace every day of the week. We recognise that people have family commitments. They may have a tradesperson coming to their house, they’ll come in late today, they’ll work a bit longer later on. Are we going to put all of that aside because of this sort of silly legislation, which honestly is just a complete breach of common sense.
Gary Adshead: Maybe there’ll be people that are working from home that will exercise their right to disconnect as well. Alright, well we’ll wait and see how it plays out. I appreciate you joining us.