Independent Senator Jacqui Lambie has doubled down on criticism of the Albanese government’s new right to disconnect laws, which are slated for a final vote in the Senate on Thursday.
The legislation, proposed under Labor’s Closing Loopholes bill, seeks to give workers the right to ignore phone calls and emails from their employers if contact is made during unpaid out-of-office hours.
On Wednesday, the government locked in a deal with upper house crossbenchers and finally secured a majority to have the legislation moved through the Senate after months of pushback.
Senator Lambie and fellow independent David Pocock were seen as the kingmakers in advancing the bill to the voting stage, but the government managed to gain approval from Senator Lidia Thorpe after the former abstained.
Speaking to Sky News Australia on Thursday morning, she reiterated concerns the legislation would be unfeasible in practical terms and draw damaging consequences for businesses.
“I don’t know how it is workable whatsoever,” Senator Lambie told AM Agenda host Laura Jayes.
“I just don’t know how this thing is going to function. I would have thought after going through COVID is that there is a lot more flexibility in the workforce with most businesses that have said you can work from home.”
“We are going into really uncertain economic times this year and I just worry about that extra red tape for businesses… new industrial relations laws are supposed to lessen red tape especially for businesses out there and quite frankly I think these changes have just added to it.”
The government has not explicitly detailed how the amendment, which was tabled by the Greens, will be put into practice, other than outlining it will aim to punish “unreasonable” employer contact.
Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke has floated potential penalties – in the form of fines – that can be slapped on companies who breach the law, after the affected worker obtains a stop order from the Fair Work Commission.
But Ms Lambie questioned how the legislation would work across different industries, including those of the public service and journalism, where staff were often required to be on-call outside of standard working hours.
“I just find this part of it really dysfunctional and I’m just not sure how it’s going to work,” she said.
“And by the way, if you’ve got a problem with your employer, you can already go to Fair Work (Commission) over this sort of stuff.”
Business groups have raised similar concerns, arguing right to disconnect legislation could become an obstacle to organisations already struggling to grow in an inflation-riddled economic climate.
“We encourage the Senate to view this legislation through the broad lens of mainstream Australia, where family enterprise and small business is the lifeblood of the economy and community,” a statement issued by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry read.
If the bill is passed, the government will be faced with the pressing challenges of making allowances for reasonable form of employer contact which includes arranging shift swaps, change in working conditions relating to the place and time of work.
It will also have to rollout changes to a tranche of existing enterprise bargaining agreements and employment contracts for millions of part-time and full-time workers.
The Closing Loopholes bill will also make landmark amendments to the gig economy and road transport industry, by setting minimum standards and protections for casual employees which grant them conversion rights to permanent employment within six months – down from the current period of 12 months.
Senate will vote on the sweeping IR bill on Thursday afternoon.