Government and Greens Senators have called for a significant trial of the four-day working week after hearing “substantial evidence” of its effectiveness.
The Select Committee on Work and Care, chaired by Greens Senator Barbara Pocock, released its report late last week.
A key recommendation from the report is for the federal government to undertake a four-day work week trial, based on the 100:80:100 model. This model sees workers receiving 100 percent of their pay while working 80 percent of their normal hours with 100 percent productivity maintained.
The workplace revolution has been picking up steam across the world, with an emphasis on its potential to improve work-life balance and general health, while maintaining the same level of work.
The Senate Committee said such a trial should be in “diverse sectors and geographical locations”, and that the government should partner with a local university to measure the trial’s impact on productivity, health and wellbeing, workplace cultural change, gender equality and impact on the distribution of unpaid care work across genders.
“It is many decades since Australia made general reductions in the length of the working week and we are far from our mid-nineteenth century leadership in international rankings for reductions in the length of the working week,” the Select Committee on Work and Care report said.
“It is time for a review of standard hours, the frequency with which they are over-run without recompense, and for more widespread experimentation with shorter working weeks.”
The report emphasised how a four-day work week could help to normalise care as part of working life.
“While appreciating that a four-day working week and other reduced working week initiatives may not be suitable for all workplaces, there is a growing volume of evidence to demonstrate that it can work across most sectors and industries,” the report said.
“As a workplace with reduced hours has the potential to level the gender playing field, it raises not only the prospect of more women in managerial positions but also positively impact unconscious bias in recruitment and training, as well as promotion across workplaces.”
It is time for significant changes to the normal working week, Pocock said.
“The committee’s report gives the government the blueprint it needs to revolutionise our workplace laws so Australians, and particularly women, can find a balance between working and caring responsibilities,” Pocock said.
“Australia is an international outlier in terms of our support for workers with caring responsibilities. We have slipped too far behind. And we are paying a price in labour supply, stressed workers and gender inequality.
“It is time for a new social contract, fit for the 21st-century workplace, that does not put the burden on workers jugging care responsibilities around their jobs.”
While the report’s recommendations were backed by the participating Labor senators, they reiterated that they do not reflect government policy, and that fiscal constraints may limit the ability to implement them.
“This report contributes important contemporary knowledge about the state of work and care in our nation,” the Labor senators said.
“It is now the role of government to consider the report and its recommendations within the context of broader budgetary and legislative constraints.”
In August last year more than a dozen Australian companies embarked on a trial of the four-day work week, including Momentum Mental Health. That company’s CEO Deborah Bailey told the committee that 12 of its 14 staff were currently working four-day weeks and that the company has been thriving.
“We are working with more clients; our client numbers are up by eight percent, so our outputs are up,” Bailey said.
“Client satisfaction has increased, the number of hours of service delivery that we are delivering in that space of time has increased and our external stakeholder engagement has dramatically increased as well.”
Of the staff participating in the trial, 70 percent are now regularly getting eight hours of sleep, compared to 56 percent before the start of the trial. Happiness has also increased while stress has declined.
Large firm Unilever also announced an 18-month trial of the concept late last year, with 500 employees to take part.