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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2016 Week 04 Hansard (Thursday, 7 April 2016) . . Page.. 1272 ..

Workplace Privacy Amendment Bill 2016

Debate resumed from 18 February, 2016, on motion by Mr Rattenbury:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

MR SMYTH (Brindabella) (11.58): The opposition will be supporting this bill although at the outset I would just say that issues affecting the privacy of workers need to be taken very seriously, as do illegal activities by employees. Employers deserve as much protection as do employees. I hope that that is what this bill will do.

The bill enables employers to gather evidence of employees’ unlawful work-related activity outside the workplace to mitigate costs of such behaviour, ie, false claims and impacts on insurance premiums and administrative cost or simple theft. It provides employers with extended surveillance power, ie, to conduct surveillance outside the workplace. The current act restricts covert surveillance to the workplace. But there are protections to that, in that to undertake that sort of surveillance a court order needs to be obtained.

The bill eases the employer’s requirement to place notification on a vehicle or on another object that is being tracked where this is impractical and the employer has taken reasonable steps to notify workers of the tracking activity. It transfers enforcement responsibility for the act from ACT Police to Worksafe ACT and empowers inspectors appointed under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 to enforce the Workplace Privacy Act 2011. It removes from the act reporting requirements of surveillances undertaken. These would be included in the agency’s annual report.

I thank the minister for the briefing that was given to my office. Apparently the act has only been used once since it came into being in 2011.

The bill seems to provide a relative easing of restrictions but it does justify the issuing of covert surveillance authority through the Magistrates Court. Because the requirements are quite stringent on future use by employers, this should be reasonably limited. With that, we will be supporting the bill.

MS BERRY (Ginninderra—Minister for Housing, Community Services and Social Inclusion, Minister for Multicultural and Youth Affairs, Minister for Sport and Recreation and Minister for Women) (12.00): I briefly touch on this bill that is being debated in the Assembly today. At first blush, as Mr Smyth says, most of this legislation is okay. The review recommended a couple of amendments that are non-controversial.

The concerns that have been brought to my attention by unions and their members and workers are about this particular amendment that will allow employers to apply to a magistrate for authority to conduct covert surveillance of employees when they are outside the workplace. This is the concern that unions and workers have on this particular legislation.

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