The Scottish government has announced it will have ‘meaningful discussions’ on establishing a right to disconnect for government employees and those in devolved agencies.
The Scottish government made the pledge alongside its budget announcements yesterday (9 December). In a document outlining public sector pay policy for 2022-23, it said there was an “opportunity for all public sector employers to consider how, where and when work is defined and delivered and the impact on the wellbeing of the workforce”.
As part of that, employers should discuss with staff representatives the possibility of introducing a right to disconnect, which would allow workers to disconnect from communications with bosses outside of normal working hours.
This would provide “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”.
A right to disconnect has been in place in France since 2017, meaning workers have a legal right to avoid work emails outside of usual working hours. Portugal introduced a similar right this year and this is also an employee right in Ireland.
The Prospect union, which has been campaigning for the introduction of a right to disconnect, welcomed the Scottish government’s commitment.
A poll by the union earlier this year found that two-thirds of remote workers would like to see a right to disconnect enshrined in law.
Andrew Pakes, Prospect director of communications and research said: “People’s experience of working from home during the pandemic has varied wildly depending on their jobs, their home circumstances, and crucially the behaviour of their employers.
“This latest move by the Scottish government will put the spotlight on burnout and tackling our growing digital always-on culture.
“The best employers are already recognising the importance of agreeing with their staff the boundaries between work and home life. This is because it delivers more satisfied and productive staff, who are more likely to stay.”
However, he called for the UK government to move forward with its delayed Employment Bill and consider including the same rights for other workers.
The Scottish government’s budget documents also confirm that it would explore the option of a four-day working week, starting with a number of public sector pilots with more detail to emerge in due course.
The Scottish National Party pledged in its 2021 election manifesto that it would establish a £10m fund to enable companies to pilot a four-day working week.
In September, Scotland’s Institute for Public Policy Research published research showing that 88% of working people in Scotland would be willing to test out shorter hours.
A trial of a four-day working week in Iceland was deemed an “overwhelming success” this summer, and led to unions negotiating the right to request shorter hours for much of the country’s population.