While the COVID-19 pandemic has changed many elements of work – such as embracing Zoom meetings and flexibility around working from home – the ACT Government is currently examining more potential changes.
Namely, looking at what a four-day working week would look like and whether it could actually be a feasible element of the future of work.
Chair of the standing committee that will look into the idea, Liberal MLA Nicole Lawder, said in June 2021 they hope to start a conversation about how the traditional working week could change.
“We think the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that we can introduce flexible working arrangements in some workplaces,” she said.
“What we want is to hear from members of the public, employers, unions and anyone with an interest in this topic to help the committee formulate the results of the inquiry.”
The standing committee’s discussion paper, released in June 2021, acknowledged that efforts to reduce the time spent at work without a loss in pay have occupied unions and workers for hundreds of years.
“The drivers for these efforts have been underpinned by the view that working fewer hours is an indicator of economic and social progress,” the paper reads.
Historically, working weeks have been more than double the current 38-hour week. In the 19th century, a working day ranged from 10 to 16 hours, although disquiet with this began in the 1860s.
In Australia, the standard five-day (40-hour) working week was only achieved following World War II, with the first five-day week starting in 1948.
The standing committee does not have an official view on whether it agrees or disagrees with a potential implementation of a four-day week.
“For some people, they’ll see this as, perhaps, a costly and unaffordable option, and that it may be difficult to implement in some industries,” said Ms Lawder.
“But for other people they may see productivity, health and wellbeing improvements.”
The standing committee recently extended its deadline for submissions to May 2022. So far, seven public submissions have been made to the inquiry.
One submission noted possible mental health benefits, including allowing time-poor people to indulge in more self-care activities, in addition to economic benefits because “those who have time are more likely to follow their passions and invest in themselves academically and artistically”.
The same submission noted it’s important that a move to a four-day week should be done with some flexibility and without lowering wages.
Another submission made by a person who identified herself as an expecting mother noted there could be a major advantage from reducing the working week, which would see less gender inequality in both the public and private spheres.
“A four-day work week could reduce the time pressures experienced by Australians, diminish the work-hour inequality between men and women, and the gender wage gap,” the submission read.
However, another submission raised concerns about any potential benefits and noted the standing committee’s discussion paper had not engaged with issues regarding insecure employment.
The standing committee has asked to receive submissions that explore both the pros and cons of a four-day work week. Information about how to make a submission is available here.