|Issue No 17||11 June 1999|
Shoot the Messenger: New Surveillance Fears
Unions fear a loophole in the Listening Devices Act means that messages left on answering machines and message-banks can be secretly monitored by employers.
The clerks branch of the Australian Services Union has raised concerns after one member was sacked and another disciplined over messages they left on a client's message machine. The dismissal has now been referred to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.
In both cases, copies of messages were sent to the employer by a third party, claiming the employee had been impolite and discourteous on the phone.
ASU organiser Ted Tamplin says this form of monitoring is fraught with dangers -- often there's not even proof of who the person on the tape actually is.
The union wants to see some guidelines set down so that workers know when their messages will be scrutinised and protected from any subsequent use of the recording.
Tamplin says the loophole appears to exist because the message banks have developed since the Listening Devices Act was designed.
"This is just a case of the law failing to catch up with technology," he says. "The last guidelines were developed between the Labor Council and the Privacy Committee in 1983.,
"You can't monitor an employees' phone calls without letting them know, there is no reason why messages should be in a different category."
While employers are arguing that workers are impliedly consenting to surveillance by leaving a recorded message, they have no control to the use of that material.
The issue arises in the context of the development of call centres, with the government planning to create an extra 60,000 jobs in the industry in the next five years.
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Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005