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.