The “right to switch off” proposal, led by deputy leader Angela Rayner, who is also the shadow secretary of the state for the future of work, comes as many workers struggle to find a proper work-life balance
The Labour Party is gearing up for the next general election and this time the party’s election manifesto plays it right by planning the “right to switch off” for workers. If the Labour Party comes into power, the bosses will be restricted from contacting their staff by phone, email, or WhatsApp, outside of working hours. The proposal, led by deputy leader Angela Rayner, who is also the shadow secretary of the state for the future of work, comes as many workers struggle to find a proper work-life balance as they are drowned by work-related mail and messages during their after-hours, weekends, and even holidays.
“Constant emails and calls outside of work should not be the norm and is harming work-life balance for many”, Rayner told Financial Times. She also added that they would study and will look at how to implement this practice from the countries that have already introduced these measures successfully. However, she also acknowledged the fact that sometimes contact would be necessary, especially with employees who are working overtime.
Right to Disconnect
The supposed “right to switch off” might be something new to the British, but it’s not so for Europeans. Let’s take a look at some of the countries that brought in law codes to improve the work-life balance.
France was the first European country to introduce legal codes on the right to disconnect. The country legally required employers to negotiate agreements with unions for a right to disconnect after office hours from January 2017.
A worker at the French arm of Rentokil, received €60,000 in 2018 after the company failed to respect his right to disconnect.
Spain brought in legal codes to the right to disconnect along with transposing the GDPR into Spanish law. Employees from both sectors- private and public, were allowed to cut off and maintain proper work-life balance.
Belgium introduced the laws in 2018 and made it obligatory for employers with more than 50 employees to discuss the issues of disconnection and the use of digital tools with the workplace health and safety committee. But in Belgium, even though the workers have a right to discuss the issues, they don’t have the right to actually disconnect. In 2022, the country passed a law that allowed civil servants to cut off work-related emails and calls, received outside of office hours, without consequences.
The Portuguese parliament introduced new laws regarding remote work in 2021 and in January 2022, the right to privacy went into effect. The Labour Code requires those employers to refrain from contacting the employees during their rest period. Companies could be fined if the right is breached. Ireland and Italy are other European countries that introduced laws to bring in work-life balance.
The Labour Party’s policies have been criticized since the party took the lead in opinion polls ahead of the general election. The policies are part of a wider package of employment amendments that are aimed at giving workers better rights. The party intends to bring in a lot of changes and one of the biggest would be a ban on “zero-hours contracts”. Flexible working hours were on the agenda of the Conservative Party and promised to make it a “default” in its 2019 manifesto but has dropped it.
The Institute of Directors stated that it accepted the government’s plan to give the workers the “right to request” flexible working hours but it acknowledged the fact that enforcing flexible working hours could be challenging for some companies. Labour Party would also grant holiday rights for the employees from their very first day of employment and give protection against unreasonable firing. The party also brought in “fair pay agreements” through sectoral collective bargaining which is an important demand from the unions. In the polls, Labour is ahead of Sunak’s Conservative party and had a successful set of local elections which saw it become the largest party in local government