Thousands of public servants could be moving to a four-day work-week, as the ACT government responds to calls from a parliamentary committee to reduce workloads.
The ACT government agreed earlier this month to set up a working group in 2024 to create a road map for future trials.
It said it was “mindful of the clear benefits a four-day working week would provide” but noted that it “poses challenges”.
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“Whilst productivity may increase, it may not increase sufficiently or with enough longevity to fund the model in the longer term,” it said.
“Further, staffing in many frontline areas will most likely have to increase to ensure adequate roster cover and ensure service delivery is maintained.”
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The working group will explore future trials and the public service areas that would participate, including administrative and frontline business units, and employees working in both full-time and non-full-time roles.
A working group will also determine the best way to engage with the private sector and offer them the opportunity to voluntarily participate in a trial, as well as the support structures that would be required to do so, the ACT government said.
As businesses across Australia and the world trial their versions of the four-day work-week, the committee recommended the ACT government trial a similar model to the one employed in the UK.
Employees, unions and other representatives are set to be involved in the upcoming consultations regarding trials.
Reduction over compression
The ACT working group will look at a reduction model for future trials, which means that there is no loss of pay or conditions for reduced working hours.
The committee distinguished the difference between “work time compression” and “work time reduction” in its discussion paper.
The compression model would alternatively work to squish the same amount of working hours into fewer days, which the committee’s discussion paper said “is not beneficial for workers in general and for women in particular”.
The reduced schedule was also the preferred method in a six-month Australasian pilot program run by 4 Day Work Week Global, which 26 companies joined in August.
It found that 95 per cent of organisations favoured the reduced schedule, which resulted in less stress for workers without lower productivity, and 96 per cent of employees wanted to continue the four-day week after the trial wrapped up.
Health Insurance company Medibank also trialled the reduction method in October, reducing the workload of 250 employees to 80 per cent, with efforts monitored by Macquarie University’s Health and Wellbeing Research Unit from the university’s business school.
Mediubank called it a way to “remove low-value work from their day and create capacity”.
Health throughout history
Productivity often takes centre stage in the discussion of a reduced work week, but the committee also discussed health throughout history in the workplace.
It highlighted the work week that once existed in Europe, with working conditions that often resulted in injury and death, and referred to the proposed changes as social progress.
“In the 19th century, the number of hours in a standard working week was, in some cases, more than double that of the 38-hour week set by the Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in 1983 that applies in Australia today,” the committee’s discussion paper said.
Unions, employee dissatisfaction and huge protests, including May Day marches, were behind the push for a more tolerable workload.
“The drivers for these efforts have been underpinned by the view that working fewer hours is an indicator of economic and social progress,” the committee’s discussion paper said.
While workplace accidents were reduced in some parts of the world by up to 41 per cent as a result of the smaller workload, modern-day workplace challenges including burnout and stress-related illnesses are only now becoming better understood.
After the 4 Day Work Week Global trial, two-thirds of employees reported feeling less burnout and 38 per cent reported feeling less stressed.