ACTU hits ‘jack­boot’ so­cial me­dia bans


ACTU sec­re­tary Sally McManus has called for a review of laws gov­ern­ing so­cial me­dia use by work­ers in the wake of em­ploy­ers seek­ing to re­strict em­ployee ac­tiv­ity on Face­book and Twit­ter.

Unions have ac­cused multi­na­tional giant Unilever, owner of Streets ice-cream brands in­clud­ing Magnum, Pad­dle Pop and Golden Gay­time, of adopt­ing a “jack­boot” ap­proach to so­cial me­dia use by em­ploy­ees.

Unilever has told work­ers they risk dis­ci­plinary ac­tion if they post an­gry “emo­jis” on so­cial me­dia in protest at the com­pany’s threats to cut their pay and con­di­tions. They have been warned against crit­i­cis­ing the com­pany’s con­duct to fam­ily and friends.

New guid­ance for so­cial me­dia use is­sued to fed­eral public ser­vants says they risk dis­ci­plinary ac­tion for “lik­ing” anti-gov­ern­ment posts or pri­vately email­ing neg­a­tive ma­te­rial to a friend at home.

Public ser­vants risk breach­ing the public ser­vice code of con­duct if they do not re­move “nasty com­ments” about the gov­ern­ment posted by oth­ers on the em­ployee’s Face­book page.

Ms McManus said that while loy­alty to an em­ployer had tra­di­tion­ally been part of a worker’s em­ploy­ment con­tract, Unilever’s ap­proach was un­rea­son­able.

“Things have changed in terms of the way that peo­ple can ex­press or pub­lish their views,’’ she said.

“The idea that you pub­lish some­thing in a news­pa­per that was neg­a­tive about your em­ployer, or get a sky­writer to do so, would clearly be a breach of your em­ploy­ment con­tract.

“But I don’t think it’s kept up with so­cial me­dia be­cause there’s a clash at the point of where are you be­ing too in­tru­sive into peo­ple’s lives and their ex­pres­sion as hu­man be­ings.”

She said “now it’s taken to be that if you pub­lish some­thing on Face­book, even if you have got re­stricted pri­vacy set­tings, that can be con­strued as a breach of your con­tract or a breach of the poli­cies of an or­gan­i­sa­tion”.

“Poli­cies that ban emo­jis, the Streets ex­am­ple, I don’t think any rea­son­able per­son would think that’s fair,” she said.

“It’s a grey area part of the law that needs to be looked at so we do have some pro­tec­tion for peo­ple’s pri­vacy and their ba­sic hu­man­ness in ex­press­ing their feel­ings or views in the way peo­ple do on so­cial me­dia.”

But Scott Bark­lamb, di­rec­tor of work­place re­la­tions pol­icy at the Aus­tralian Cham­ber of Com­merce and In­dus­try, took a dif­fer­ent view. “It’s a re­al­ity of the mod­ern world that peo­ple’s con­duct out­side work hours, on so­cial me­dia or oth­er­wise, can do sig­nif­i­cant dam­age to their own pro­fes­sional rep­u­ta­tion and dam­age public con­fi­dence and trust in their em­ployer”.

Stephen Smith, head of na­tional work­place re­la­tions pol­icy at the Aus­tralian In­dus­try Group, said em­ploy­ers were en­ti­tled to, “and need to”, have so­cial me­dia poli­cies so their em­ploy­ees are aware of what is ac­cept­able and un­ac­cept­able be­hav­iour.

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