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Teachers, education employers clash on right to disconnect

By Kace O'Neill | |6 minute read
Teachers Education Employers Clash On Right To Disconnect

Employer groups are pushing for teachers and support staff to remain available after school hours, while teachers are arguing for the ability to switch off.

A key part of the federal government’s “Closing Loopholes” changes is the right to disconnect. This somewhat controversial legislation has garnered huge support from workers across Australia, while some employers have been scrambling to ensure that their employees will still pick up the phone when need be.

In the education sector, the Association of Independent Schools (AIS), which represents employers in over 300 schools, is a part of the scrambling brigade as it pushes for teachers and support staff to remain available after hours.


The independent schools sector includes not just the big, well-known institutions but also smaller schools, including faith-based, ethnic, and alternative schools.

“Teachers and school staff are already carrying heavy workloads, and they need the same right to disconnect as other working people,” said Independent Education Union (IEU) of Australia NSW/ACT Branch secretary Carol Matthews. The IEU represents more than 32,000 teachers and support, professional and operational staff in independent schools.

The AIS has lodged a Fair Work Legislation Amendment submission for the right to disconnect, citing weekend sports and school camps as limitations on the right to disconnect and the possible challenges those situations could pose.

It wrote: “As set out in clause 14.9 of the Teachers Award, the duties of a teacher may include co-curricular activities. In a school context, these may be wide-ranging and may involve sporting activities (including on weekends), school performances, musical programmes, other events, etc.”

“While most of the communication around these co-curricular activities can be managed during working hours, there is often a need for contact by a school (or other party) to occur with a teacher immediately prior, during and after such an activity.”

Matthews agreed that co-curricular events and unique situations call for some wiggle room in terms of the right-to-disconnect legislation; however, he maintained that the downtime of teachers and support staff should also be respected.

“Of course, we recognise that overnight excursions and camps, Saturday sport and boarding house supervision are an essential part of life in many independent schools, and staff need to be available for these times and activities,” said Matthews.

“But teachers and school staff also have the right to downtime and are still entitled to the legislated right to disconnect when they are not performing an allocated or rostered duty.”

The AIS also presented an argument based on the duty of care that teachers and support staff are expected to have for their students, stating that this duty may, at times, require teachers to go beyond the typical working hours, thus bypassing the right to disconnect.

“In addition to the points made concerning co-curricular duties, teachers have a duty of care to students, which has been established in case law and under statute. The duty of care emanates from the special relationship that teachers have with respect to students, which extends beyond classroom management to the wider school context.”

The IEU once again agreed with some of the stances that the AIS made around the overall duty of a teacher and support staff. However, it fundamentally disagrees with the notion of the teachers not having the right to disconnect.

“Along with overnight excursions and weekend sport, student contact, employer requests and parental queries are all part of school life, and we are not trying to stop this,” Matthews said.

“But the AIS calling for school staff not to have this right is unreasonable. School staff should not be required to be on call at 8pm on a weeknight if a parent or student wishes to contact them.”

In its concluding remarks, the AIS referenced the IEU and its exceptions to its submission, stating: “We note the IEU submission, and we also see benefit in the commission facilitating discussions as part of the consultations scheduled to take place in the week of 17–21 June.”

Matthews said: “We are happy to discuss clearly identified exceptions, but the new right to disconnect was designed to allow all working people family and leisure time, free from work demands and interruptions, and teachers and school staff are no exception.”

Kace O'Neill

Kace O'Neill

Kace O'Neill is a Graduate Journalist for HR Leader. Kace studied Media Communications and Maori studies at the University of Otago, he has a passion for sports and storytelling.