10 March 2022

How a four-day week might work for the ACT's public service

| Ian Bushnell
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ACT Government Public Service building

The ACT Government Public Service building in Civic: a four-day week would be an enormous change. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

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.

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.

canberra hospital

Hospitals and essential services would pose particular challenges and require more staff. Photo: Region Media.

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.

READ ALSO Auditor urges mandatory integrity training, conflict of interest declarations for all ACT public servants

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.

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People who want a shorter working week should expect a pro-rata reduction
in pay and I can’t imagine many people with mortgages or growing families wanting that.

Those who expect the same pay for 20% less hours, dream on. Pigs fuelled and ready to fly.

If the intention is to work the same hours but over 4 days, who will answer the phones on Friday?

Imagine school days being Monday-Thursday and extending the daily teaching hours to 5pm? (Interestingly, Dominic Perrotet raised the issue of varying school hours and I recall he received a “canning” over it).

Who’d look after the school kids on Friday, if mum and dad aren’t ACT Government employees?

Would peak hour on our roads move from 6pm to – say 8pm and families eat dinner at 9pm?

Would public transport move to the less frequent weekend timetable on Fridays and non ACT Government employees not be able to readily get home?

Ok, I’m being a bit negative, but realistically, I’d expect if the Government was to agree, it’d only be offered to people in non-essential roles.

Not sure what the fuss is about. I was working full time hours condensed into a 4 day week in 2019 in the ACTPS. The flexibility already exists in enterprise agreements. Obviously won’t be practical for all roles or workers but where it works it’s already available.

I started contracting after I officially retired. I took contracts that enabled me to work a four-day week (usually Wednesdays off), working 8 1/2 hours a day. I don’t recall that expectations of my workload or output were affected by this. I just had to work smarter. Of course, rostering of staff in public contact roles would need to provide for adequate levels of service Monday to Friday to achieve this, but it’s hardly rocket science is it? I don’t think anyone is suggesting that Canberra Connect offices would shut down one day a week.

Get back to work you lay abouts, it is near impossible to get anything done in this town as it is!
All ps would be in shock were they to spend time working in the real world where productivity matters.

HiddenDragon6:41 pm 12 Mar 22

“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 fact that this even being contemplated when government debt at all levels is off the charts, when the costs of delivering major programs such as health and the NDIS are rising rapidly, and when significant parts of the private sector are hanging on by their fingernails, speaks volumes about monumental arrogance of this government.

With a tight labour market, now would be the ideal time for all governments to look very hard at everything they do and say goodbye to the functions and related jobs which are not going to be affordable when fiscal reality hits in the not too distant future. The priority should then be to find the most efficient way of doing what remains – this is absolutely not the time for expensive, pace-setting changes to employment arrangements. Long-suffering ACT taxpayers – particularly those who are not comfortably attached to the public teat – have had more than enough of this government’s extravagant priorities.

This idea has to be a joke and makes Canberra look terrible. The rest of Australia already views Canberra as full of highly paid bureaucrats (paid by taxpayer money) who do very little work, and this silly proposal confirms that notion.

Public servants – professional clock watchers

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