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Unions push for right to criticise bosses -

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ELEANOR HALL: It's almost an Australian tradition to sit around at the pub after work and sledge
the boss.

But when you take that sledging to a social networking site online you can run into trouble, as six
New South Wales prison officers have discovered. They've been threatened with the sack for comments
they made about their boss on Facebook.

The case is now in the Industrial Relations Commission, as Ashley Hall reports.

ASHLEY HALL: They've been dubbed the Facebook Five, although there are now six outspoken prison
officers trying to save their jobs in the Industrial Relations Commission.

The New South Wales Department of Corrective Services has written to each of them, threatening to
sack them over disparaging comments they made about their boss on Facebook.

Stewart Little is a senior industrial officer with the Public Service Association who believes
workers should be able to speak their mind.

STEWART LITTLE: We believe that, you know, employees have a right to sort of privacy and have a
right to their own opinion in their own time.

ASHLEY HALL: There's a lot of people who say anything you put on the internet is no longer your own
and you are effectively publishing it to the world. How do you explain that it's a private
conversation on the internet?

STEWART LITTLE: You can have a chat room which is only open to yourself and colleagues. It's only
open to them and it's not something which is I think intended for the whole world.

ASHLEY HALL: The union wants the commission to change the officers' award to recognise a right not
to be disciplined for something that's said or done in private, outside work hours.

STEWART LITTLE: Why should you be open to disciplinary action by your employer for, you know, going
to the soccer, going to the football or really, you know, talking in the pub with a colleague about
your boss?

ASHLEY HALL: So how private is Facebook?

Peter Black is a senior lecturer in internet law at the Queensland University of Technology.

PETER BLACK: There is certainly I think an argument that it is a private conversation. However I
think that probably ignores the reality of how these sorts of websites operate.

ASHLEY HALL: But if you've chosen only to allow a certain number of your friends to see this
information, does that not at least exhibit a desire to keep it private?

STEWART LITTLE: Yes it may well do and then there could perhaps be an argument that there is a
reasonable expectation of privacy in that situation.

However because there is always a record kept of these sorts of conversations in an online
environment, even where it is private it is very easy for that information to get out beyond the
wall.

ASHLEY HALL: Dr Jason Wilson lectures in digital communications at the University of Wollongong.

And while he agrees that a conversation on Facebook is not really private, he doesn't think bosses
should be allowed to punished workers for comments they posted in their own time.

JASON WILSON: Having said that though, I think it's best that people kind of acquire maybe a
slightly more sophisticated literacy when it comes to that sort of stuff.

ASHLEY HALL: But a leading workplace lawyer says workers should be aware that legally a
conversation on Facebook with work mates or about work mates could be considered work related.

I think the work place would be considered to extend that far and certainly if we look at
activities such as sexual harassment outside the work place that has been considered to impact on
work.

ASHLEY HALL: Stuart Kollmorgen is a partner with the law firm Deacons.

STUART KOLLMORGEN: I've known of cases of teachers, of managers and others working in positions of
authority, managing employees, where those employees are IT savvy who've had their daily
performance reviewed. For every night they can read about themselves on the internet.

It's debilitating and in the worst cases it's designed by the employees to get rid of the manager
by forcing the manager to resign.

And that's why he's doubtful that the industrial body will give workers a sweeping new right to
complain about their boss.

Even the union's Stewart Little says he's not sure how the case will go.

ELEANOR HALL: And that's Ashley Hall reporting.