The right to disconnect.
WA police officers need the right to disconnect. Because if you can’t switch off off duty, you can’t be on on duty.
When Mick Kelly, President of the WA Police Union, joined the WA Police Force 33 years ago, he’d only receive an out-of-hours call from his boss about something that was really significant, such as if his gun were missing from the armoury.
It was a world in which mobile phones weren’t commonplace, computers were little more than word processors and people would think nothing of telling you off for disturbing their private lives.
Nowadays, everyone’s got a direct line to everyone else, whether that’s by calling, texting or emailing. Consequently, employees are more open to their employers contacting them away from work, and police officers have developed a culture of always being on duty.
What would’ve been a note in a police officer’s locker in 1989 would be a text to their mobile when they’re off duty in 2022. The right to disconnect would give them permission to manage what’s become the societal norm and culturally acceptable. It’s not the norm, and it’s not acceptable.
Listen to the experts.
It’s not just police officers who think police officers should have the right to disconnect. Relationship counsellors, psychologists and doctors agree.
“When employees respond to emails, calls or texts outside work hours, they can’t switch off and relationships suffer. Employers with no boundaries can have toxic impacts on relationships and are often cited as factors in break-ups. Relationships need to be protected from intrusive, unrelenting work expectations.”
“Ultimately, if you can’t switch off from work emails, calls or texts, your brain can’t rest and reset for your next shift. Elevated stress hormones can cause memory loss, inconsistent mood and difficulty regulating reactions…any one of which would be problematic on the job.”
“What we have here is a high-stakes occupation. An inability to switch off and recover, mentally and physically. And then the associated unhealthy lifestyle choices. These can – and do – contribute to high blood pressure, congested arteries and an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. It’s not healthy, and it’s not sustainable.”
International and interstate.
In 2004, a French court judgement introduced the right-to-disconnect concept to policy makers. In 2016, the Valls Government passed a labour law that included the right to disconnect. In 2020, the Victoria Police (Police Officers, Protective Services Officers, Police Reservists and Police Recruits) Enterprise Agreement 2019 incorporated the right to disconnect.
France was the birthplace of the right to disconnect. In 2016, the Valls Government passed a labour law that, among other provisions, included the right to disconnect (le droit de la déconnexion). While the 2016 labour law confirmed the right to disconnect, it’d been a 2004 judgement of the Court of Cassation that’d introduced the concept to French policy makers. France’s highest court found an employee’s failure to answer their work phone outside their agreed working hours wasn’t a valid reason for his employer to fire them.
The right to disconnect is codified into article L2242-17 of France’s Labour Code. The code doesn’t define its implementation, leaving employers and employees to determine the arrangements that best suit their respective needs. Indeed, article L2242-17 simply requires annual negotiations between employers and employees to determine the limits between the latter’s work lives and personal lives. However, French authorities take the right to disconnect seriously, as a 2018 Court of Cassation ruling that an employee is entitled to extra pay whenever they’re asked to be available to take work-related calls outside their rostered working hours shows. The court ordered the French arm of pest control company Rentokil Initial to pay €60,000 in compensation to its former regional director.
Different countries have taken different approaches regarding right-to-disconnect policies. For example, Italy, Ireland and Spain have followed France’s lead, each introducing legislation that grants employees the right not to respond to work-related communications outside their agreed working hours without the fear of penalty. In Germany, it’s companies that have shown the greatest initiative, with chief executives of many German organisations, including Daimler, Siemens and Volkswagen, negotiating with unions about what policies to implement to ensure employees feel able to disconnect.
Operational since April 2020, the Victoria Police (Police Officers, Protective Services Officers, Police Reservists and Police Recruits) Enterprise Agreement 2019 contains the following clause:
59. Right to disconnect outside of effective working hours for protective services officers, constables, senior constables, sergeants and senior sergeants
59.1 Supervisors and managers must respect employees’ periods of leave and rest days.
59.2 Other than in emergency situations or genuine welfare matters, employees must not be contacted outside of the employee’s hours of work unless the employee is in receipt of an availability allowance pursuant to clause 56.
59.3 Employees are not required to read or respond to emails or phone calls outside their effective working hours.
New industrial agreement.
The right to disconnect is the centrepiece item in the WA Police Union’s log of claims that sets out what its 7,000+ members, which make up approximately 98% of WA police officers, want included in their replacement industrial agreement.
Remuneration, resources and respite are the three central themes of the WA Police Union’s log of claims.
The WA Police Union’s remuneration claims include recognition of the positive contributions its members have made protecting WA throughout the COVID-19 pandemic over the past two years, the negative impacts they’ve endured toiling under restrictive wages policies over the past five years and their real need to experience real growth in their pay packets, both now and in the future.
In December, the McGowan Government announced its new public sector wages policy would provide ‘above-CPI wage rises’ over the next two years. However, in April, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported Perth’s year-on-year CPI was +7.6%, 1.6% higher than any other Australian state or territory capital city.
That’s why a 5% pay rise annually is one of the WA Police Union’s remuneration claims, along with increasing shift allowances, overtime rates and missed meal rates, introducing penalty payments on the significant public holidays of Good Friday and Christmas Day and insuring officers with universal private health cover.
The WA Police Union’s resources claims include recognition of the logistical challenges its members face due to a rostering pattern that’s too short. It’s impossible for them to plan their lives when they don’t know their work hours more than one week in advance.
And the WA Police Union’s respite claims include recognition of the need for its members to switch off from their uniquely demanding jobs when they’re off duty. The right to disconnect establishes boundaries around the use of employer-to-employee communications outside rostered working hours. It’s often looked upon as the individual right of the employee to not only disconnect but also not receive a reprimand for failing to connect or a reward for constantly staying connected.
Negotiations are under way.
The WA Police Union is engaged in good faith bargaining with the McGowan Government and WA Police Force for a deal that includes the right to disconnect to replace the expiring Western Australia Police Force Industrial Agreement 2021.
The Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission registered the Western Australia Police Force Industrial Agreement 2021 on Thursday 2 December 2021. It wasn’t meant to be a long-term accord, more of a stop-gap solution while the McGowan Government reviewed its wages policy. It’ll expire on Thursday 30 June 2022, although it’ll remain in operation until it’s replaced.
Remuneration, resources and respite. They’re the three Rs that the delegates at the WA Police Union’s 85th Annual Conference, sponsored by P&N Bank, spoke about most frequently, most fervidly and most forcefully. They’re the three Rs that permeate the WA Police Union’s log of claims. They’re the three Rs that WA Police Union members need, want and demand.