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The Right to Disconnect Bill must trigger a larger debate

Hindustan Times | By
Jan 14, 2019 06:39 PM IST

The Private Member’s Bill which has been introduced in Parliament to give employees the right to refuse official calls after office hours will be useful and help boost morale

Nothing can ruin a Saturday like a phone call from The Boss. It is a pain as real as a toothache and as irritating as a buffering video on a slow internet connection. It should, therefore, come as a heart warming piece of news that certain members of Parliament understand and empathise with this pain. In an attempt to make all of our holidays better, a Private Member’s Bill has been introduced in Parliament to give employees the right to refuse official calls after office hours. Member of Parliament from the Nationalist Congress Party, Supriya Sule, has earned the respect of all people who have a boss by tabling the Right to Disconnect Bill seeking to “confer the right on every employee to disconnect from work related telephone calls and emails beyond work hours and on holidays and right to refuse to answer calls and emails outside work hours”.

Ever since they invented the mobile phone and the internet, it has made it far too easy for bosses to be constantly in touch with employees and increasingly harder for employees to disconnect from work. The Supreme Court of France recognised this as a labour problem in 2004, ruling that if an employee was not reachable on their mobile phone outside working hours, it cannot be considered misconduct. In 2017, France passed a law formalising the Right to Disconnect; and it is expected that other EU countries will follow the example. Companies in Germany, even without formal laws, have been implementing this idea. It was reported in 2012 that Volkswagen had reached an agreement with the company’s work council that its Blackberry servers would stop routing emails to workers half an hour after the end of their shifts, and only start again half an hour before their next shift. There have been attempts to bring about such laws in other countries as well, including in Italy and the Philippines.

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Corporate culture in India is famously dismissive of employees’ personal time and space, often making a virtue out of this fact. What this approach misses is that the productivity of an employee is directly proportional to morale, which can only improve from having the time for a fulfilling personal life. This is why the Right to Disconnect would be useful. The bill also seeks to provide employees with counselling for work-life balance, digital detox centres for “reasonable personal use of digital and communication tools”, and overtime pay for working beyond stipulated hours. Even though Private Members Bills are unlikely to get discussed or passed, it is hoped that the bill will at least manage to trigger some conversation about labour laws in the time of smartphones.

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