Scottish Government officials win right to disconnect out of hours

Scotland's civil servants are UK's first workers to have a legal right not to be contacted out of hours, Prospect union says
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By Tevye Markson

14 Dec 2022

Scottish Government civil servants now have the right to not be contacted outside work hours after unions came to an agreement with employers.

The Scottish Government’s 2022-23 Public Sector Pay Policy, published a year ago, introduced the requirement for public sector employers to have "meaningful discussions with staff representatives about the right to disconnect".

The right has been introduced in several countries around the world in recent years, with the aim of countering the "always-on" culture created by modern technology such as smartphones and email.

The Council of Scottish Government Unions has now agreed terms with the Scottish Government to implement the right. Officials will be the first workers in the UK to have a legal right not to be contacted out of hours, according to the Prospect union, which has campaigned for several years for the policy to be introduced in the UK.

The Scottish Government guidance for the new policy states that staff "should not be required to routinely perform work outside their own agreed normal working hours" and "should not be penalised or pressured to routinely work outside their normal working hours".

It also states that all staff "have a duty to respect each other's down time, for example by not phoning or expecting responses to emails or other communications outside of an individual's normal agreed working hours".

There are exceptions, such as where contact was expressly agreed with an official in advance, someone is on call, or the situation is extraordinary, such as letting a staff member know an office is shut that day.

Speaking on behalf of the CSGU, Prospect’s Scottish secretary Richard Hardy said: "The Right to Disconnect policy creates a safety net for staff to ensure nobody is placed under pressure or compelled to work in ways or times that are atypical for them. It has been a longstanding policy objective of the trade unions and the Scottish Government is the first public sector employer in the UK to implement it."

Other countries which have introduced legislation on the right to disconnect include Ireland, Belgium, Italy, Spain and France. The right first emerged in France more than 20 years ago in an employee dispute, where the Supreme Court ruled the worker “is under no obligation either to accept working at home or to bring there his files and working tools”. This was adapated to take into account digital advancements and formalised into law in 2017.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government’s Public Sector Pay Policy for 2022 to 2023 set out the expectation that employers and staff representatives considered introducing a Right to Disconnect.

“The guidance was agreed earlier this year in conjunction with the civil service trade unions, providing a balance between the opportunities and flexibility offered by technology and our new ways of working to support the need for staff to feel able to switch off from work.”

Andrew Pakes, director of comms and research at Prospect, said: “It’s time the UK government and other employers followed the Scottish Government’s lead – it’s a move that will benefit them in the long run as well as being the right thing to do for workers.”

The Cabinet Office was asked for its view on the suggestion, but had not responded at the time of publication.

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