Right to disconnect: IEU speaks up for members at Fair Work consultation

The Albanese Labor government has updated the Fair Work Act over the past two years, including a new “right to disconnect” for working people. 

On 12 June 2024, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the Association of Independent Schools (AIS), the employer group that represents about 250 schools in the sector, had lodged a submission to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) as part of its review of modern awards, seeking to restrict the new right to disconnect in the Teachers’ Award based on “the retention of flexibility”: Private schools oppose right to disconnect for teachers.

On 19 June 2024, the Fair Work Commission held a consultation session in Melbourne to hear from interested parties (such as unions and employer groups) about what a “model clause” in modern awards for the right to disconnect might look like. The IEUA attended, represented by Federal Assistant Secretary Anthony Odgers and NSW/ACT Organiser Kendall Warren.

The IEU supports the draft ACTU model clause, which makes clear that employees are entitled to have time off and away from work, without the pressure of constant contact from their employer. 

However, some employers, such as the AIS, are less supportive of this idea, seeking carve-outs and exclusions for teachers from the general right to disconnect.

Teachers and professional, administrative and operational staff are dedicated employees who often go out of their way to assist students and respond to emails from parents outside of their working hours. But this should not be an expectation, and the union is pushing back against employers on this. 

The IEUA is also seeking some additional, teacher-specific, wording to take into account the unique working environment of schools.

The clause in the award is an important benchmark for this provision, as it will provide the basis for similar clauses that can be inserted into the agreements that cover most staff in non-government schools.

The FWC indicated that time constraints might mean industry-specific clauses may need to wait, and that there would be a standard clause in place first, with applications to vary particular awards to come later. 

NEXT STEP: The IEUA will lodge a response to the AIS submission within a week.