How many people today are aware of the reason behind the Labour Day holiday known as Eight Hours Day in Tasmania and MayDay in Tasmania? As recorded in https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/australia/labour-day ‘During the mid to late 1800s the working day was long and arduous, where some employees would work up to 12 hours a day, six days a week.’ From 1856 to 1873 with the action of Australian workers, agreements were made around the country to win an 8 hour work day (48 over a week) and marches to celebrate this improvement to workers lifestyles and work hours have been held ever since on Labour Day.
However it is now 2019, 150 years later and what progress have we really made? How many are still working 48 hours a week, maybe more hours than 48?
As a semi retired person I have time to reflect and do all the things that I was not able to do in full time work. I am healthier, more energetic, enjoy many varied pursuits, can take long weekends, enjoy travel. I believe consequently I have better social and emotional health than ever before. On the flip side I see younger people trying to balance work, families, friends, health and struggling and business and industry floundering.
Isn’t it time that we came a lot smarter as a society to manage our workforce. Imagine how a 4 day week would work? I know there are some forward thinking employers who are already trying this with good results. But let’s imagine if the normal for full time work was 4 days!
Benefits for workers – obviously more personal time, time to consider and prepare healthier food habits, time for exercise, more time with family and friends, opportunities to do things that give them more pleasure if their work does not satisfy them, time to volunteer and contribute to the community.
Benefits for employers – less sick days and employees should have better social and emotional health. Less tension and stress in the workplace, more harmonious employee relationships.
Benefits for society and the economy – more people in work so less unemployment benefits and social problems associated with unemployment, infrastructure like roads and public transport managed better since people have staggered work hours, childcare places more available and flexible as parent’s hours of work decrease so reduced funding to childcare, health system released from massive costs associated with physical and emotional illnesses caused by working too much or unemployment, the dwindling volunteer ‘army’ required to operate schools (canteens, reading support, maintenance working bees etc) and sporting clubs would be boosted as workers had greater availability and in a better ‘headspace’ to help out.
The ‘elephant in the room’ is of course how do we pay for this?! Working 4 days would see a drop in pay but with changing tax scales this could be minimised. Industry savings due to a more reliable healthier workforce should allow some pay increases to offset this. Government savings in healthcare and childcare could be given back in tax cuts to employees.
I am not an economist however in the 21st century I believe it is imperative that we consider changes to our traditional work styles that are based on an industrialised society of 100 years ago. We have new social problems caused by unemployment and underemployment of some, and the high expectations and overemployment of others. It is time that government and industry work together and become creative and innovative to meet the current and future needs of workers and families, our most precious resource. A four day week would be a good start!