Fill Me In
In a recent parliamentary debate on the government’s strategy post COVID-19 pandemic, Melvin Yong, a member of parliament (MP) from the Radin Mas constituency brought up the Right to Disconnect law, explaining that the law aims to help employees have protected time to rest and recharge fully.
The right to disconnect was pioneered by France and later followed by other European states such as Italy, Spain, and Germany. Even in India, politicians have started mulling over the law.
What exactly is the Right to Disconnect law?
According to The Future World of Work, the Right to Disconnect refers to the right of employees to disconnect outside of working hours – any work-related emails, calls or messages outside working hours will not be entertained, unless absolutely necessary.
The main purpose of the law is to establish realistic boundaries around the use of electronic communication after working hours, especially in this pandemic where the line between working and personal time has been blurred.
The law will also provide employees the right not to engage in any work-related activities at home and to also give them a peace of mind to relax in the evening without getting worried about being reprimanded by colleagues for not connecting after work hours.
Post-working hours reduces productivity
The Right to Disconnect law is in response to the several research studies where working beyond the designated hours resulted in reduced productivity and increased prone-to-incidents among employees. Citing the US as example, working beyond 55 hours a week has its repercussions where there is a sharp decline in productivity.
Other researches have found that employees who are more productive and careful are able to contribute to the company creatively if they are fully rested.
France: First country to adopt a legislation regarding after-hour electronic communication
Citing France as one of the countries to successfully approve the Right To Disconnect law, MP Yong shared that Sharon Au, a Singaporean working in France have been told off for contacting her colleagues after working hours.
Since the year 2000, employees in France only work a total of 35 hours per week.
In 2016, The Right To Disconnect law was put in place in France where company with more than 50 workers are required to draw up a character of good conduct, specifically highlighting when staff are supposed to stop sending and answering emails. The law came into place after employees in France were concerned about work-life balance.
France was the first country to successfully mandate a legislation with regard to after-work hours electronic communication through its enactment of Droit a la Deconnexion. The law states that employers will either have to work together with its employees to come up with an agreement on the boundaries of responding to work-related digital communication after work hours or to introduce a charter to address the employees’ ability to ignore any work-related communications.
Germany: Right to Disconnect is voluntary
Similarly, in Germany, companies participated in voluntary self-regulation that is aligned with industrial needs or employees. Unlike in France, where the Right to Disconnect is mandated in the law, it is entirely voluntary in Germany. By default, many would argue that this will discourage companies from establishing clear boundaries between after-work hours communication but, in reality it’s different.
Several big corporations such as Volkswagen, BMW, and PUMA have voluntarily imposed restrictions on after-work hours communication with employees. Volkswagen, in particular, chooses not to forward any e-mails to an employee 30 minutes after the end of their working day. Meanwhile, Daimler, a German automotive company, gave an option to its employees to have all their new emails automatically deleted instead of the usual out-of-office reply.
India: Right to Disconnect bill introduced in 2019
While many would argue that several variables in the European state are starkly different from Singapore, it is important to take note that India has actively brought up the Right to Disconnect Law in parliament. In Lok Sabha, the bill was introduced in 2019 and will apply to companies with 10 employees or more, and companies will have to set up an Employee Welfare Committee for enforcement. The bill ensures that employees working above the designated working hours will be compensated.
Can the Right to Disconnect be implemented in Singapore?
In parliament, various criticisms have emerged regarding this law; primarily on worker’s productivity and Singapore’s competitive edge. Also, how will the law be implemented on essential workers or how will the system encourage companies to be open to it if bosses favour those who work longer hours?
While it is important to debate about this, examples from Germany, France, and India all point to one conclusion: implementation of the law is difficult especially when sanctioning non-compliance of firms. In India, practically no punitive measures will be imposed on firms and in Germany, the importance of work-life balance takes precedence over clocking more hours, rendering the success of the policy.
Can we say the same about Singapore’s work culture when it ranks as 32 out of 40 for work-life balance and the second most overworked city? We can move towards implementing the law but, perhaps, in the short-term, Singapore can move towards voluntary self-regulation while simultaneously encouraging firms to prioritise work-life balance before mandating the Right to Disconnect as a law.