‘A push that is coming’: The four-day work week will start for some

Oxfam to implement four-day working week

A four-day work week is closer than you may think, with staff at Oxfam this week signing an enterprise deal adopting the practice that is set to trigger similar moves, a leading lawyer predicts.

Almost 100 full-time workers at Oxfam will have their hours reduced to 30 hours a week under a deal signed with the Australian Services Union, which was approved – for the first time – by the Fair Work Commission.

Employment and industrial law barrister Ian Neil SC told The New Daily that the move sets the stage for a widespread union push for similar deals in other workplaces, particularly after a Senate inquiry backed the four-day work week in a landmark report published earlier in March.

“It’s the first time that a four-day working week at full-time pay has found its way into an EBA, and [has] been recognised in an EBA,” he said.

“It’s the first manifestation of a push that is coming, and has been for some time, not just for a four-day work week, but also to regulate working hours.”

The Oxfam EBA, which must still be approved by a worker vote, is being touted by unions as a win for work-life balance, and carers who work.

“Australian workers are ready,” the Australian Services Union tweeted.

Four-day week works

Excitement about the prospect of canning the five-day work week has been building for years, but most recently a Senate inquiry report that recommended the federal government trial it refocused the campaign.

Citing dozens of international studies, the Senate Select Committee on Work and Care found evidence shows that the four-day week works.

For example, a study by Boston College, the University of Dublin and Cambridge University researchers last year tracked 33 companies that implemented a four-day week, with most simply allowing the majority of their staff to take Fridays off, while some let workers choose.

Researchers then asked employers to assess how positive the trial was on a scale of 1-10.

The results were overwhelmingly positive, with companies rating the overall effect on their workplaces at 9 on average, and the impact on workforce productivity at 7.6 on average.

More than nine in 10 of the participants said they either planned to or had already announced they would continue the four-day weeks – none of the employers stopped it entirely.

“On average, company revenues increased more than a percentage point a month during the trial,” the researchers wrote in their report about companies’ experience with a four-day week.

University of Queensland economist John Quiggin said trials have shown moving to a four-day week has improved the performance of companies and made workers happier.

“Despite massive increases in productivity, we have seen no reduction in standard hours for 40 years,” he said.

“Even as material standards of living have increased workers, and particularly parents, remain time poor.”

Karin Sanders, a professor in the School of Management and Governance at UNSW Business School, said the “evidence is really clear” on the introduction of four-day working weeks.

“The results are very clear, it’s causing higher wellbeing, less burnout, fewer turnover intentions and less actual [employee] turnover,” Dr Sanders said.

“The four-day work week is focused on how to make people more productive and making less mistakes.”

Four-day week around the corner?

Mr Neil told TND that growing awareness of the evidence in favour of a four-day week foreshadows a massive industrial push to adopt it widely.

He predicts the practice will become much more widespread across the Australian economy over the next three to five years – far less than a decade.

“Working hours are a very significant industrial issue and will be now for some to come,” Mr Neil said.

Federal government workers could be among the first to trial a four-day week in Australia, with the recent Senate Committee backing a so-called 100:80:100 model that would see wages and productivity stay the same.

Working hours, however, would be reduced by 20 per cent (one day).

In its report, the Senate Select Committee on Work and Care wrote that such a shorter working week could “make employment more accessible, [and] encourage the creation of more jobs for people”.

“It raises the prospect that working carers can progress their careers and take up employment appropriate to their level of qualification, while also encouraging a redistribution of unpaid labour more equally,” it said.

Dr Sanders said workers in industries where work is relatively inflexible already would also be prime candidates to adopt the four-day week.

These industries include health and education, Dr Sanders said.

“These are sectors where students, patients and clients are becoming more and more demanding,” Dr Sanders said. “It hurts [workers], they need an additional day for recovery.”

“They then become more motivated and more committed.”

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