Government to consider ‘right to disconnect’ from work emails

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Government will give serious consideration to the issue of work emails received outside of working hours, Attorney General and Minister of Labour Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin said in response to statements made by union leaders.

While the minister cautioned against a ‘hard and fast’ rule, given the necessity of certain professions to be on-call 24 hours a day, Benjamin said he was open to discuss the issue.

“If, in fact, it comes up and the unions and the employers want us to look at it, then we will,” Benjamin said. “But I don’t want to make a statement until such time that we can take a look at it, examine it, and make a determination.”

Discussion of the issue began in Antigua & Barbuda after a landmark piece of French legislation, which prohibits employers from penalising workers for not responding to emails after working hours, came into effect on January 1.

Deputy General Secretary of the Antigua Barbuda Workers Union Chester Hughes and General Secretary of the Antigua Trades & Labour Union Hugh Joseph, both agreed that there needs to be a reasonable expectation of when a worker can respond to work emails.

In particular, Benjamin said that essential service workers would need to be an exception to any mandate nullifying the obligation to respond to work messages. But he added that the issue would need to be discussed with the workers’ unions and employers before any official statement is made, given the lack of precedent.

“It needs some serious consideration,” Benjamin said. “It has never arisen here in the Caribbean before.”

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