|Issue No 48||31 March 2000|
Workers Demand Internet Access to Organise
Pressure is building on the NSW Government to enshrine union access to office email systems in law, with the first wave of unfair dismissal cases over the issue hitting the courts.
The NSW Labor Council this week demanded the NSW Government initiate an inquiry into usage of email, focussing on a Code of Practise to allow unions rights to emails to communicate with members and for workers to communicate with each other.
While a Code of Practise already applies to NSW public servants - guaranteeing unions access for legitimate activities - there are currently no standards in place in the private sector.
Labor Council secretary Michael Costa says while the issue is being considered by a long-running NSW Law Reform Commission report, more urgent action was required in light of the recent cases.
"Access to office emails should be a right not a privilege," he says.
Costa says if the government doesn't act decisively. Unions will take matters into their own hands and launch a case in NSW Industrial Relations Commission to set legal standards to extend the principles of the union noticeboard cases.
It emerged this week that an Ansett worker had been sacked for sending out a union bulletin, while two Narrabri council workers have been sacked for referring to their managers as 'Huey, Duey and Louie'.
Ansett Faces Backlash
Unions have warned they'll target Ansett if the unfair dismissal claim of Australian Services Union workplace delegate Maria Gancarelli - sacked after 11 years service - fails.
Ansett management deemed the distribution of the newsletter - an update on enterprise bargaining negotiations - on the internal Internet system as an "unacceptable use of technology".
Costa last night warned that unions would retaliate against the airline if the unfair dismissal proceedings fail.
"Ansett can not claim to be the unions' airline if they take this sort of action against a union delegate," Costa told the weekly Labor Council meeting.
The case involving the Narrabri workers is scheduled for hearing in the NSW Industrial Relations Commission in Tamworth in May.
Federal Email Inquiry Silent on Union Rights
Meanwhile, there's been little joy for unionists in the release of a report by the Federal Privacy Commissioner into Workplace Email, Web Browsing and Privacy.
Privacy Commissioner Mal Crompton's report focussed on the need for there to be clear guidelines in place.
The Commissioner urges employers to adopt the guidelines and ensure all staff are aware of company policy regarding the use of office e-mail and the Internet generally. Employers should be aware of the potential problems of monitoring employee e-mails. E-mail monitoring should be handled sensitively as it is "intrinsically invasive and there is an impact on staff morale and productivity" the Commissioner said.
"While privacy is an important issue in the monitoring of e-mail, employees and employers need to be aware that e-mail can raise other issues involving sex, race, disability, racial vilification, copyright legislation and corporations laws." A recent damages case by employees of a US corporation on sexual harassment using e-mail shows the penalties can be severe (see this week's Labour Review).
The e-mail and web browsing guidelines suggested by the Commissioner urge employers to:
· Ensure the policy is distributed to all employees and that they have a clear understanding of the policy
· Make the policy explicit on what activities are permitted and forbidden
· State what information will be logged and who in the organisation has rights of access to the log of staff e-mail and browsing activities
· Note the company computer security policy; with the warning that e-mails can pose a threat to that computer system
· Include a plain English outline of how the company intends to monitor and audit compliance with the e-mail guidelines
· Make sure the policy is reviewed on a regular basis
But the report fails to make specific recommendations on what protections should be provided for workers to communicate with each other or as a group. And no mention whatsoever is made of trade union activities.
See the report at http://www.privacy.gov.au/issues
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Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005