Mobile phone: job perk or chain around our necks?

Social media has become a union issue.

One of the things I have noticed recently, in my role as a union coordinator, is just how much social media has become integrated into workers’ daily lives.

Yet there are few industrial agreements that remunerate workers for the changes this has brought about in their working conditions.

When mobile phones first appeared, workers saw them as a great perk to be given one by their boss. It seemed like a handy little gadget for making and receiving phone calls, one that was far too expensive for most of us to afford personally.

The benefits of having a company mobile phone outweighed the negatives, largely because a worker could use the phone in their own time for personal use.

Today, however, company mobile phones have become a chain around many workers’ necks.

Having a mobile phone means bosses, clients and colleagues have access to them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The rise of social media and email has made this even worse.

Workers who use, manage and contribute to social media and email as part of their job are often caught in an endless daily cycle that starts from the moment they wake up in the morning to when they finally get to sleep that night.

They are working — or on call — all day, every day.

This is without mentioning how addictive mobile phones and social media apps can be. These addictive habits have blurred the lines between work and home, with the quality of life for workers and their families being severely interrupted.

The process can be so out of control that it has the capacity to lead to family and social breakdown.

Surely it is time for those who profit from our labour to be held to account for this invasion of our lives?

We need to demand recognised work-life balance requirements.

If a worker is paid for a 35-hour week, then that should be the only time they are available to work. Otherwise, they must be remunerated for the disruption caused to their private lives.

Unions should insert clauses in their enterprise agreements to this effect.

And legislators should introduce laws that recognise these problems and force employers to do something about it.

Social media has become a union issue.

[Colin Vernon is the secretary of Geelong Trades Hall Council.]

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