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Home > News > 2016 > September > Who's watching? Surveillance in schools

Who's watching? Surveillance in schools

surveillance.pngA recent case of a Queensland Catholic employer using CCTV surveillance in a disciplinary matter with a kindergarten staff member has placed the spotlight on this serious workplace issue once again.

In this instance the staff at the centre were never made aware that CCTV surveillance had be put in place. Only when the employer sought to use footage from the CCTV in disciplinary action against an employee were employees made aware of its presence.

Not only does this raise privacy concerns for employees but also for children attending the centre.

Surveillance of sites, including schools, by use of security cameras is not prohibited under applicable law in Queensland; however employees should be consulted before any monitoring system is installed in a school.

IEUA-QNT Industrial Officer Jill McKeon said workplace surveillance was a serious issue with intrusive surveillance of employees potentially leading to a sense of insecurity, loss of trust, stress and general discontent.

“In some cases, a high level of monitoring can also lead to employees experiencing personal health problems such as tension, depression and anxiety,” Ms McKeon said.

“In all cases, employers must work with employees in a transparent way when it comes to video surveillance.

What does the law say?

In Queensland, there is no specific legislation preventing employers from installing video surveillance in workplaces, although the Invasion of Privacy Act 1971 does regulate the use of ‘listening devices’ to record private conversations.

Therefore, employers can install video surveillance in order to monitor the premises for security reasons, such as deterring thieves and vandalism to property. However, video surveillance can also be used to oversee production processes and observe the performance of employees.

For employees in the federal industrial jurisdiction (such as those employed in non-government schools), the surveillance of employees is a matter which could be notified as a dispute under the Fair Work Act 2009

This means that an employee opposed to the use of video surveillance at their workplace could apply to the Fair Work Commission for a recommendation or order regarding the use of such surveillance. 

However, the Commission is unlikely to act if the surveillance is seen as reasonable in all the circumstances.

The federal Privacy Act 1988 does not specifically govern the use of video surveillance of employees across Australia. However, the Act does regulate the collection, storage, access to, correction, use and disclosure of personal information by the private sector. 

The Act defines “personal information” as “information or an opinion (including information or an opinion forming part of a database), whether true or not, and whether recorded in a material form or not, about an individual whose identity is apparent, or can reasonably be ascertained, from the information or opinion.” Video footage of a person would constitute personal information and as such the Act would apply.

In relation to the collection of ‘personal information’, the Act says: “an organisation must collect personal information only by lawful and fair means and not in an unreasonably intrusive way.” The Act also requires that “personal information must be destroyed once it is no longer needed.”

What are your rights at school?

Members must be aware and raise concerns with our union if an employer attempts to introduce surveillance at their school. If an employer advises staff that video surveillance is to be used for a specific purpose, such as monitoring for theft, it should not be used for another purpose unknown to employees.

An example of this would be the monitoring of employees when they arrive or leave work. If an employee is disciplined as a result of ‘evidence’ obtained from video footage, in circumstances where the use of surveillance for monitoring purposes has not been disclosed to employees, they may be able to seek an appropriate remedy.

Workplace surveillance policy

Our union has developed a workplace surveillance policy to provide members with a resource and a direct response to provide to employers. It includes information on what an employer must do before introducing surveillance, including consulting on the issue with employees and our union.

Employers must give proper notice to employees when surveillance is in operation and surveillance must not occur in locations that would result in a breach of privacy for the employee (such as bathrooms or change rooms).

Where an employer does not meet the requirements of the workplace surveillance policy, employees should consult with our union for a collective response to the issue.

For more information or to access our union’s Workplace Surveillance Policy, click here.

Authorised by Terry Burke, Independent Education Union of Australia – Queensland & Northern Territory Branch, Brisbane.