THE Greens have floated a radical idea to reduce the working week to just four days instead of five days, but is the idea as good as it sounds?
Greens leader Richard Di Natale is calling for a national debate about introducing a shorter working week.
“We rightly talk about the 16 per cent of people who want to work more hours, but we never hear about the more than one-in-four Australians who want to work less,” he told the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday.
“A four day work week, or a six-hour day might actually make us happier and create more opportunities for others, not to mention reducing the costs of full-time child care.”
The discussion should also include the idea of a guaranteed adequate income, he will say.
The senator told ABC TV there were worldwide examples of ways to encourage productivity and allow people to spend more time with their families and not do unpaid overtime.
“We’ve got in Australia people here doing more hours than any other developed nation on earth, an average of 44 hours a week,” he said.
The idea was gaining traction on his Facebook page, where many were supportive.
One man said: “First time I’ve ever liked a Greens post … I see a lot of salaried employees doing 5-20 hours of unpaid overtime a week as that is the norm and culture within a company … I know there’s not a simple fix but why not work less hours and hire more people — would solve a lot of issues!”
The ability to spend more time with family seemed to be a major selling point.
“This is such an important conversation to have. With a young family, with kids who are into sport and music, after a full week of work it’s such a rush on weekends getting around events,” one person wrote.
Another said: “I missed so much important family stuff and ‘me time’ because I was in the work to live headspace. What for? Because I thought I had too … It’s not worth it. Don’t do it.”
But economics Professor Jeff Borland of Melbourne University said working less also meant taking home less money and he didn’t see any evidence there was less work available.
“There’s no evidence that the total amount of work is declining and no basis to suggest the need to regulate and share the work,” he said.
While he acknowledged there was some underemployment in the market, meaning there were some people who wanted to work more hours, Prof Borland said he didn’t think many full-time workers wanted to work less.
“I think they would be in the minority, I think the majority want a full time income and get an intrinsic satisfaction from working that amount.”
Prof Borland said there was already quite a bit of flexibility for people to choose different types of jobs, with different hours.
“I think we should keep going the way we’re going, and keep regulations and cultures in workplaces, which respect the idea that people should have some flexibility in their hours,” he said.
“I’m not saying everything is perfect but I don’t think a blanket rule will solve it.
“What we should be doing is making sure the right regulations are in place so that workers can negotiate with their employers,” he said.
Prof Borland said the argument about child care also seemed “weird” because the only way to reduce the pressure on child care was to reduce the total amount of work being done.
If people did adopt four day working weeks, and others in the market took up the slack, then the demand for child care would likely remain the same.
“If the people who take up the extra jobs, unless they don’t need childcare, the amount would stay the same unless I’m missing something?”
But if demand for child care did reduce because people were dropping their working days, and others were not stepping in to take up the extra hours, this would impact Australia’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product), as well as people’s incomes.
“This would have huge consequences for our standard of living,” Prof Borland said. “Because you are talking about a 1/7th reduction in the amount of labour.
“Australia will produce less output and people will also get paid less.
“I think it’s a silly idea.”
But there is one factor that is an unknown.
Prof Borland was whether shifting to a four-day week would impact creativity.
Senator Di Natale believes having a secure income could help drive research and innovation.
“The very people who created the dog eat dog society — that so many of us now resent — will tell us these things are pipe dreams.
“Don’t believe them. They want you to believe that you don’t have a choice, that we can’t change course, because it serves their narrow self-interest.”
— With AAP
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