Union push to change workplace spying rules

A workplace legal expert says small business owners must ensure they notify staff if they intend on installing surveillance equipment, after it was revealed a major union has launched a campaign to stop companies monitoring their employees’ movements during work hours.


The Australian Workers Union is attempting to have the Workplace Surveillance Act changed to ensure employers consult with their employees before they install any type of surveillance infrastructure, including cameras and GPS devices.


The union has delivered a submission to an inquiry on the Surveillance Act, outlining its recommendations.


“What we’re trying to do is ensure that surveillance in the workplace is part of a consultation process with the employees,” AWU assistant secretary Stephen Bali says.


Bali says he has received reports of several unfair cases, with the practice of tracking becoming common and accepted in the workplace.


According to Bali, electricians, plumbers, pool cleaners and childcare workers are being monitored by secret surveillance cameras and/or mobile phone and road toll records.


Workplace legal expert Peter Vitale says the inquiry should serve as a warning for employers, urging them to notify staff before installing any surveillance equipment.


“Particularly when you’re talking about GPS tracking, I suspect there is not a great awareness of the fact that if you tend to use the data for monitoring purposes, you have to provide the employee with notice that’s going to happen,” Vitale says.


“My advice to employers in the past has been that if you’re going to start using this type of equipment, you must provide notice to employees and provide relevant information inside the workplace, which could be a vehicle.”


If employers plan to monitor internet usage and emails, Vitale says businesses need to check with their relevant state legislation as this changes from region to region.


For example, Victorian employers may not require a legal permit to look at emails, while in NSW this may be the case.


Bali has warned that as part of the inquiry into the Surveillance Act, the AWU has recommended that employers be subject to a consultation process before surveillance equipment is installed, arguing this will ensure the equipment is being installed for the right reasons.


“We’re not against surveillance per se because it’s designed to protect the assets of the company,” he says.


“But if workers are being watched in the old-style management process, like standing behind them with a stopwatch, we find that to be wrong.”


“We want to know through the consultation process who has access to it, when can they have access, how long it’s being kept. Many times we find there is no need for it.”


Bali says any surveillance measures must not serve as a replacement for human supervisors.


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