Out-of-hours worker surveillance laws to be pared back after privacy concerns
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Out-of-hours worker surveillance laws to be pared back after privacy concerns

Workplace laws that allowed bosses to spy on staff out of hours will be dialled back under amendments to be introduced into the ACT Legislative Assembly on Thursday.

Unions feared the provisions would give employers and insurance companies undue powers to monitor staff suspected of fraud or corruption outside the workplace when they were introduced in 2016.

Alex White, Secretary of Unions ACT, with colleagues near their Barton office in 2016.

Alex White, Secretary of Unions ACT, with colleagues near their Barton office in 2016.

Photo: Graham Tidy Fairfax Media

At the time, Unions ACT secretary Alex White described the laws as a "serious and unjustified erosion of privacy and rights of working people".

"The amendment would allow employers or insurance companies who had 'reasonable belief' that their employee had engaged in 'unlawful activity' to secure a warrant from a magistrate to conduct covert surveillance," Mr White wrote.

"The thresholds for 'reasonable belief' and 'unlawful activity' are worrying low and vague. The threshold for law enforcement agencies to conduct similar covert surveillance requires a suspicion of serious criminal activity.

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"The lower threshold proposed in this bill would allow private employers and insurance companies wide powers to intrude into the private lives of workers for minor, non-criminal matters."

An ACT government spokesman said discussions with stakeholders prompted the changes.

"The government consulted with the ACT Insurance Agency, ACT Bar Association, ACT Law Society and Unions ACT in relation to these provisions," he said.

"All of these stakeholders agreed that that un-commenced provisions in the bill would give employers too much power to intrude into the private lives of workers for non-criminal matters.

"The government has therefore determined that these provisions should not commence in their current form."

Mr White said Ms Stephen-Smtih had "demonstrated a commendable responsiveness on this issue, which unions have welcomed".

CPSU acting ACT regional secretary Ash van Dijk said the revisions would "better balance workers' right to privacy with the need to ensure that only legitimate compensation claims proceed".

"Covert surveillance is a massive intrusion, particularly when the target is a vulnerable person who has been seriously injured at work. Allegations of criminal behaviour should be appropriately investigated by police, not by allowing insurance companies to spy on workers," Mr van Dijk said.

"The overwhelming majority of workers' compensation claims are entirely legitimate. People who have been hurt at work deserve to be supported and respected, not spied upon."

Katie Burgess

Katie Burgess is a reporter for the Canberra Times, covering ACT politics.

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