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[Lecture] Digital Technologies and Work: Recent Developments

NOV . 16 2021

Speaker: Sean Cooney, Former Associate Dean of Melbourne Law School

Host: Assistant Professor Yan Tian, PKU Law School

Time: 15:10-17:00, November 16, 2021 (GMT+8)

Venue: Tecent Meeting ID 441 420 661

Language: English


This lecture will discuss issues of employment law that have become more pressing as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic. Both concern work safety, in a broad sense. I will focus on Australian employment law, but make some reference to other countries.

The first issue is the rise of working from home. The city in which I live, Melbourne, has had one of the longest lockdowns in the world (262 days over six periods). It has therefore been necessary for many people to work from home. This has raised questions about employer responsibility for safe working practices at home, ranging from equipment, to working time, and even the personal domestic environment. The division between work and home life, and between employer control and privacy has become blurred.

The second issue concerns vaccination. Australian state governments have issued very strong vaccine mandates – persons who refuse vaccination are not permitted to attend a very wide range of workplaces, including, for example, universities and restaurants. While the overwhelming majority of people have been willingly vaccinated, some people have refused. In many cases, this has been because of misinformation spread on-line. Around 5-10% of the working population falls into this category. Questions arise about whether such people can be lawfully dismissed. It would seem so far that the answer is yes, with unfair dismissal and discrimination arguments made by “anti-vaxxers” failing.


Professor Sean Cooney is the former Associate Dean of Law School, University of Melbourne. Professor Cooney's research interests concern international and comparative labour and employment law, with a focus on Asia. He has worked on new approaches to improving international working standards, including on collaborative projects on understanding Chinese labour law reform, enforcement in Australia, and assessing the effect of legal change in several Asia-Pacific countries. He has published articles in major refereed law journals in the United States, China and Australia. Between 2014 and 2016, Sean served as a Legal Specialist in the Labour Law and Reform Unit at the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva, where he provided advice to governments in countries such as China, India, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan and Vietnam. He continues to consult for the ILO. He studied at the University of Melbourne and obtained his doctoral degree from Columbia University and also spent several years as a lawyer practicing mainly in the areas of employment and administrative law.

Source: PKU Law School