Call for national workplace surveillance legislation

Von Sandra Rossi

The government of the Australian state of Victoria is keen to follow New South Wales"s move this month on workplace surveillance legislation but has gone one step further by calling for uniform laws to be enacted across the entire nation.

Responding to recommendations by the Victorian Law Reform Commission (LRC) to adopt workplace surveillance legislation, the state"s Attorney General Rob Hulls said the laws should be extended across Australia.

Hulls said he will take the commission"s proposals to a meeting with other state and territory attorneys general to push for uniform workplace privacy legislation across the nation.

"It is my view that current laws are inadequate, that the current regime is inadequate, because there are a whole range of circumstances where workplace privacy is being invaded inappropriately," he said.

NSW is the first state to introduce such laws with the Workplace Surveillance Bill 2005 coming into force this week.

NSW Attorney General Bob Debus said it effectively outlaws unauthorized surveillance of employees using technologies such as video cameras, e-mail and tracking devices.

Victoria"s LRC hasn"t just called for similar legislation to be adopted in that state but is seeking to establish an independent monitoring authority to probe alleged breaches.

Chairperson Marcia Neave said privacy is a fundamental right recognized by international law.

"But our domestic law at the moment doesn"t have very much to say about the balance which should be struck between employers" legitimate needs and workers" rights to privacy," she said.

"Technology has surged ahead with new ways to monitor, test and, track workers, but our laws have lagged behind."

The commission"s report tackles a range of workplace privacy issues including e-mail monitoring, video surveillance, drug and alcohol testing and genetic testing.

Under the proposed law employers would need authority from a regulator for such testing or to track workers.

Victorian Trades Hall secretary Brian Boyd called for the state government to act swiftly in legislating the proposals.

Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industry government relations manager David Gregory rejected mandatory regulations. Gregory said employers would accept "guidance material" but that"s where it ends.

Business lobby group Australian Business Limited has recommended all businesses undergo an audit of current surveillance activities and devise an Internet and computer usage policy.