People need to 'switch off' from work emails, says union

11:03 am on 3 January 2017

A trade union boss is calling on the government to consider following France's lead and ban major employers from sending work-related emails outside work hours.

Filming the interviews meant the victims could focus on recounting what had happened, said Inspector Sarah Stewart.

Filming the interviews meant the victims could focus on recounting what had happened, said Inspector Sarah Stewart. Photo: 123RF

Under the new law, which came into force on Sunday local time, companies in France with more than 50 employees have to negotiate and set out hours when staff are not required to send or answer emails.

The measure was intended to stem work-related stress in an environment where all-hour access to email was blurring the lines between work time and personal time, and is part of a set of new labour laws in France passed last May.

Council of Trade Unions president Richard Wagstaff - who appreciated the irony of being called about this while on holiday - said it was something New Zealand should be looking at.

"What we want to do is create a situation where people feel like they can switch off and get away from work, and not feel always obliged to be keeping their mind and their eye on their phone. We should do something about it in New Zealand - the problem will become greater, not lesser."

France has a tradition of strict employment laws, having had a 35-hour working week since the year 2000.

The new email law follows a similar attempt in 2014 to ban some employers from sending work emails once staff have left for the day.

However, E tū Union assistant national secretary John Ryall said New Zealand already had a good handle on working overtime.

"We're addressing this in New Zealand, but in a different way. The law has changed so outside work hours, if the employer wants you available they've got to agree with you on a payment, what they call an availability payment."

But Mr Ryall noted there were still changes that could be made elsewhere.

"I think there needs to be further action taken in terms of restricting people's civic rights to participate in political activities, on Facebook and other social media, without being monitored by your employer."

Business New Zealand chief executive Kirk Hope said it was not necessary to legislate here, as good employers already protected their employees by following health and safety rules.

"While I don't think the mechanism will work, I think it's something that we certainly should be thinking about, and I think lots of really good businesses are thinking about how they manage some of these risks with their employees."

While the law was in force in France, companies will be given time to comply with it voluntarily, and for now there are no penalties for violating it.