Australian commission to review biometric time and attendance impact on privacy

Australia’s Fair Work Commission will hear an appeal by a Queensland sawmill employee claiming his dismissal for refusing to participate in a biometric time and attendance system violates his right to privacy, the Australia Financial Review reports.

The unfair dismissal claim against Superior Woods of Queensland was rejected late last year by the commission, but on review the bench said the legality of firing a worker for refusing to provide biometric data under Australian law has not yet been examined.

“We are satisfied that the appeal raises important, novel and emerging issues, not previously the subject of full bench consideration or guidance,” the bench said.

Sawmill worker Jeremy Lee cites the trade in personal data among large tech companies, and the surveillance practices revealed by Edward Snowden in support of his claim.

Fair Work Commissioner Jennifer Hunt said in the initial ruling that the company’s policy itself was not unlawful, and that the biometric scanners improve safety by allowing for quick headcounts during an evacuation. She did note, however, that the company’s lack of required notices may breach Australia’s Privacy Act. Superior Woods argued that employee records are exempt from the Privacy Act, and therefore so are the processes of obtaining those records. That connection was included in the grounds for appeal identified by the commission, as was the suggestion that proving a fingerprint scan implies consent on the part of the employee.

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