Vic Govt acts to protect employee privacy

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Vic Govt acts to protect employee privacy

A new Victorian Government review into workplace privacy could tackle one of the gaps left in the Federal Privacy Act which started last December - the issue of employee records – according to the Victorian Law Reform Commission.

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A new Victorian Government review into workplace privacy could tackle one of the gaps left in the Federal Privacy Act which started last December - the issue of employee records – according to the Victorian Law Reform Commission.

VLRC CEO Padma Raman told WorkplaceInfo the commission had identified workplace privacy as the most urgent area of privacy reform after producing an information paper last year which looked at privacy laws affecting all spheres of Victorian life.

Workplace reform was the big issue, she said, because unlike in NSW there was no real regulation of the Victorian workplace at all, thus employers were theoretically unrestrained when it came to employee privacy – and anecdotal evidence showed abuses did occur.

While the new review, announced by Attorney-General Rob Hulls this week, will see the VLRC consulting widely on the issue and asking people to contribute their experiences, she said cases the Commission had already heard about included things like 'nanny cam', whereby child-care centre workers could be observed secretly.

Last year's paper had also uncovered issues about monitoring of an employee's movements during the day, drug testing and psychological testing, particularly when done by an overseas company and with results assessed overseas, to overseas standards.

Raman said the Commission would look towards NSW to see how well its workplace model was operating (see HRLink 5a/99), and compare reforms from overseas to find the right model for Victorian workplaces. While no time line has yet been set down for a final report, over the next few months the VLRC will produce one or two issues papers, then conduct wide public consultations.

Terms of reference

Under the terms of reference, the VLRC will report first on workplace privacy issues, and recommend reforms, and then on privacy in public places. It will consider activities such as:

  • Surveillance and monitoring of workers' communications;
  • Surveillance of workers by current and emerging technologies, including the use of video and audio devices on the employer's premises or in other places;
  • Physical and psychological testing of workers, including drug and alcohol testing, medical testing and honesty testing;
  • Searching of workers and their possessions;
  • Collecting, using or disclosing personal information in workers' records.

Employee records was the cause for much debate when the Privacy Amendment (Private Sector) Bill 2000 passed through Workplace Relations Minister Peter Reith omitted records due to ideological reasons (see 126/2000). The Government argued that employee records privacy was more appropriately dealt with at state level.

Announcing the review this week, Attorney-General Hulls said with privacy-invasive technologies increasingly being used in the workplace, the time was right to find the balance between an employer's right to protect assets and employees' right to privacy. He said he wanted to ensure the rights of all workers were considered, including independent contractors, outworkers and volunteers.

The second part of the inquiry, to start later this year, will focus on public places. Raman said a third issue – use of publicly available material - had been identified as an area of concern but the Government had decided due to the nature of the internet, and the lack of clear boundaries and ownership, there was not a good deal of impact it could have. This issue came to attention last year after the controversy last year about Crime Net, the website that drew together material publicly available in the courts to track criminals.

 

 
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