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Employees in UK rally behind the ‘right to disconnect’ movement

Work from home blurred boundaries and gave workers and companies flexibility, but not always positively. In just a year, the situation turned into a ‘live at work’ fiasco, and now employees want some boundaries reinstated.

In a recent move, a majority of the European Parliament cast their vote to introduce the ‘right to disconnect’. This is a worker’s right to disconnect from tasks and work-related communications, such as emails, during non-work hours. Since the UK left the European Union, it is no longer required to remain in step with Brussels on various policy areas, including employment legislation. Nonetheless, UK citizens are hopeful that this progressive policy from their former community will find its way into UK laws as well.

With home-working becoming the norm for almost everyone due to the pandemic, the Union Prospect wants organisations to be legally required to negotiate with staff about when they can and cannot be contacted for work purposes. It is calling on the UK government to use the forthcoming Employment Bill to give employees the right to switch off.

Prospect research director Andrew Pakes said: “Including a right to disconnect in the Employment Bill would be a big step in redrawing the blurred boundary between home and work.”

Towards Work-Life Balance

The UK can follow in the footsteps of Ireland, which drew up a new official code of practice, including these three main clauses:

  • The right of an employee to not have to routinely perform work outside of the normal working hours.
  • The right to be not penalized for refusing to attend to work matters outside of regular work hours.
  • The agreement to respect another person’s right to disconnect (for example, by not routinely emailing or calling outside regular working hours).

As per these guidelines, workers will be able to refer to it in proceedings before the Labour Court or Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) if they are asked to regularly work outside agreed hours.

UK citizen Angus Wheeler-Rowe, who works in the telecoms industry, said, “Setting rules about the boundaries for remote or hybrid working would make a big difference in helping people switch off and recharge. Reinforcing the distinction between work and home will increase motivation and at-work productivity, which has to be better for bosses and workers.”

If the UK adds these addendums to their Employment bill, it provides leverage to workers in other developed countries to make the same demands from their own governments.

As the pandemic exposed issues in our capitalist structures, an outcry for fair wages, parental leave, healthcare, and now work from home boundaries have only increased, suggesting that the modern employee no longer wishes to be exploited in the name of livelihood. Heeding these voices provides us an opportunity to discard the ‘all work and no play’ mentality and create a more balanced ecosystem.

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