Sharing the Benefits: The Case for Shorter Working Hours

Sharing the Benefits: The Case for Shorter Hours, a new research paper by Mark Dean and Lance Worrall, makes the argument for a statutory reduction in standard working hours and the working week. It does so primarily from the viewpoint that Australia should reinstate full employment as the superordinate economic goal of national policy.

Sharing the Benefits provides an historical survey of progress made in Australia towards shorter hours over the past century and a half, and the halting of that progress around 40 years ago (about the time of the 35-hour week campaign led by Laurie Carmichael), coinciding with the implicit abandonment of a national full employment objective. It surveys the current imbalance between the two poles of exploitation in the Australian labour market – overwork and unpaid overtime, versus underemployment and perpetual insecurity. It assesses the extent of these undesirable features and how Australia compares to other nations, finding that Australia scores high in the incidence of these negative characteristics in international perspective.

The paper then continues the international comparisons, including a major OECD survey of the impacts of shorter hours on aggregate employment and productivity. The focus then turns to the benefits of a shorter working week, including reducing exploitation and burnout through the more equitable distribution of work, before examining challenges to the introduction of shorter hours. International moves to a shorter working week are surveyed before consideration of the various models and forms in which shorter hours can be delivered. We consider that the most viable model is a 32 hour four-day week, achieved in two stages.

Trialling of a shorter work week could include the aged- and health-care sectors, where issues of low pay, burnout, and difficulties in attracting and retaining workers are to the fore.  Against the likely objection that this could reduce capacity in the system at a time of high need, it should be seen that shorter hours are entirely compatible with the need for more secure jobs, better staff recruitment and retention, and productivity growth in these sectors.

Sharing the Benefits concludes with several recommendations and suggested directions for achieving a shorter working week, with opportunities that could be taken by Commonwealth and state governments, employers, and trade unions.

Please see the full report, Sharing the Benefits: The Case for Shorter Hours, by Mark Dean and Lance Worrall.