Moving to a four-day week would be costly and technically challenging for the ACT Public Service to implement but could improve its ability to attract and retain staff, as well as boost productivity through a better work-life balance, according to an ACT Government submission to a Legislative Assembly inquiry.
The submission to the Future of the Working Week Inquiry also says that, if adopted, the shorter working week would establish Canberra as one of the most progressive cities in the world.
It comes as the public service emerges from periods of working from home that has familiarised it with flexible working patterns.
But without extra productivity the delivery of services might have to change from the present Monday to Friday structure with reduced workloads, or more staff would have to be recruited to maintain the present levels of service.
The submission warns that in a highly competitive jobs market, recruiting extra staff in already high-demand occupations such as nursing and teaching could be challenging.
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But the shorter working week could also be a strong point of difference for the ACT, combined with competitive salaries, in recruitment campaigns highlighting work-life balance.
The submission says it would require an overhaul of rosters to ensure the work could still get done and Canberrans still had access to services, as well as fair scheduling of days off.
“Workplaces would need to determine on a case-by-case basis whether the reduced number of workers available across the working week is sufficient to manage the required workloads without endangering the work health and safety of workers,” the submission says.
Schools and essential services pose particular challenges.
The submission says for schools, community expectations, curriculum requirements, and parental care considerations would need to be balanced with scheduling and staffing requirements on different days.
For essential or frontline services that are staffed by 24/7 shift workers, such as hospitals or other emergency services, additional staff would be needed to cover the gaps created by a shorter working week.
“It is expected the total wage costs in the ACTPS will increase and there would be significant financial cost in operationalising the model across the ACTPS,” the submission says.
The submission also says a number of legislative, administrate and industrial changes would need to be made including amending the Public Sector Management Act 1994.
There are 18 ACTPS agreements and any changes would need the support of a majority of workers before being submitted to the Fair Work Commission for approval.
Part-time and casual staff would also need to be protected and their pay adjusted so they were not worse off.
The submission says the four-day working week could also support people to stay productively in the workforce for longer if they wanted past traditional retirement age, “giving people at all ages greater balance and more time to pursue interests outside of the workplace”.
“A four-day working week gives time back to people, which can reduce work-induced stress and related consequences, potentially impacting the societal rising cases of anxiety and depression, loss of sleep, poor dietary and exercise habits as well as child health, wellbeing, and behaviour,” the submission says.
It would also feed into higher productivity and the economy, as workers have more time to relax and spend money in the region.
But the government submission admits that implementing a shorter working week with no requisite loss of pay would come with big challenges.