||Issue No. 284||07 October 2005|
Age of Consent
Interview: Under Fire
Politics: And the Winners Are ...
Economics: The Common Wealth
History: Walking for Justice
International: Deja Vu
Legal: The Rights Stuff
Review: That Cinderella Fella
Poetry: Is Howard Kidding?
The Locker Room
Make Ads Not Law
Nice One, Workers!
Dog Eat Dog
Age of Consent
From today you have a legal right to access your union's website, receive union emails - including in the middle of industrial action - and even, read Workers Online! And your boss is now required to set out a clear policy on email usage before being able to monitor your web usage - not revolutionary, but a small step forward for privacy.
As interesting as the substance of these advances in workplace cyber rights, is the tortured process of turning an idea into law - something that we have followed first hand through the pages of Workers Online.
The germ of the idea of protecting email privacy was formed in late 1999 in the back offices of Workers Online, after we had begun receiving a series of stories about bosses using the server as a personal domain.
The issue was raised through Unions NSW in 2000 and taken to the then Attorney General, Jeff Shaw, who referred the idea to an ongoing Law Reform Commission inquiry into workplace privacy.
It looked into the issue and recommended laws based around the video surveillance laws that had been enacted a couple of years previously, setting the basic principles for the legislation that became law today.
But there were already warning signs that this would be no quick fix - with the Commission report taking more than a year to be released publicly after reporting to the government.
Importantly, Unions NSW did not simply lobby. The issue became a catalyst for organising workers through the IT Workers Alliance, an experiment in online organising that yielded some positive results.
In 2002 momentum stalled when the NSW government received advice from the Crown Solicitor that it lacked constitutional power to legislate for emails. As the Attorney General Bob Debus noted at the time "the framers of the Constitution did not consider the issue of emails, and, frankly, I envy them".
By 2003 we were getting impatient and used the Big Brother evictions of that year to again highlight the problem of snooping bosses.
After much argy-bargy and a range of legal opinions, centred around whether an email was a broadcast or a narrowcast (that is whether an email is 'telecommunications' as described by the constitution, or something altogether different) the Attorney-General was convinced he had legal legs to stand on.
The legal debate was conducted against this backdrop, with a number of employers, including Channel Seven and Suncorp, using the server as an industrial weapon and cutting off union emails in the middle of a stoush.
By late 2003 the premier was again announcing the policy, but he would never see it become law, with two more long years - punctuated by constant union representations - before the law we celebrate today was finally passed.
Even then, it has been met by the howls of employer groups who have the sense of irony to complain the laws have been bought in hastily and may catch some of their members unawares.
Despite all these hurdles we got there, and the lesson is that with sufficient personal drive and perseverance - notably from former Unions NSW official Michael Gadiel and the hipper elements of the Attorney General's office - a good idea can become law.
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