Nurses and teachers say a four-day working week would not only be possible in their industries but it could help attract skilled workers and reduce burnout.
If the change were to take place in schools, students would still spend five days at school but would be in the classroom learning for fewer hours than currently.
The Australian Education Union ACT branch told an ongoing ACT Legislative Assembly inquiry into the future of the working week, a four-day week would be possible if additional teaching assistants were hired and more job-sharing arrangements implemented.
If enacted on the basis of a 20 per cent reduction in workload, primary school face-to-face teaching hours would be cut from 21 to 16.8 and secondary hours from 19 to 15.2.
Students would then have their in-class hours reduced by 20 per cent in line with this but they would stay at school for the full week.
According to the union, Australian students already spend more time in classrooms than their peers around the world and could benefit from time to complete homework or other activities.
The union said students could be supervised by teaching assistants when they weren’t in class for structured learning activities.
Ultimately, the union believes a four-day week could help combat burnout and mental fatigue, increase job satisfaction, help retain staff and attract more workers.
Most of those sentiments were shared by another workforce that is struggling to attract and retain the staff numbers needed – nurses and midwives.
According to the union that represents them – the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) – reducing weekly hours would help with the general feeling of burnout as a retention and attraction tool.
The ANMF told the inquiry the maximum number of weekly hours for full-time employees should be reduced over time from 38 to 32 to make this happen.
That’s different from the “compression” model that typically means workers are expected to compress a five-day working week into four usually 10-hour days.
It notes that this change would also mean long-standing shift patterns may need to be altered and employees would need to “exercise high levels of control over their work schedules and shift patterns”.
The union also acknowledged more staff would need to be hired to assist with this change as healthcare services have to be delivered 24/7.
However, it said the implementation of such a change would “be a potent incentive for potential new employees”.
It also acknowledged the cost of this kind of trial and concerns around such a move serving to further casualise the workforce.
Both unions assume hours would be reduced without any loss in pay.
The Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) also made a submission to the inquiry, echoing some of those concerns about encouraging more instability and casualisation of the workforce.
It ultimately said any change to working conditions could only be achieved through worker self-determination and self-organisation.
The ACT Government has previously expressed some concern about the difficulty of moving industries such as healthcare and education to a four-day model.
Submissions for the inquiry close on 16 December.