26 September 2023

Public sector the place to test four-day work week in the ACT

| Claire Fenwicke
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It will be easier to implement a four-day work week in office-based jobs, with the ACT Public Service identified as the place to start a pilot program. Photo: File

The ACT Public Service is ideally placed to start its own trial of a four-day work week, according to a new report.

The Standing Committee on Economy and Gender and Economy Equality tabled its report following extensive hearings into the suggested workplace reform.

It considered different iterations of a four-day work week: reduced hours with no loss of pay or productivity, compressed hours (leading to longer days) and hybrid models.

The committee concluded that the ‘reduction model’ had the greatest support in the Territory.

“[The model proposed] includes an additional condition of no reduction in output for the employer when compared to a normal five-day work week,” the report stated.

“A shift to a four-day work week would involve a four-day work week being considered full time [employment], with all the societal repercussions that that involves.”

The report noted perceptions this policy would result in a loss of conditions and pay for employees, loss of productivity, and increased costs to business, and cited issues around the arrangement for non-permanent or part-time staff were widely challenged during public hearings.

It also found employers considered the disadvantages of a four-day work week to be greater than employees did.

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Concerns around productivity were prevalent during the hearings, with some stakeholders stating the reduction model could result in a drop in productivity of up to 20 per cent.

The committee questioned this assessment.

“Interestingly, findings from recent Australian four-day work week trials state that 70 per cent of participating companies reported an increase in productivity and 30 per cent reported that it stayed the same,” the report stated.

“Many respondents [to this inquiry] posited that a four-day work week would result in less procrastination and ‘presenteeism’.

“While the committee acknowledges that some specific industries (mainly front-line services) would experience a loss of worker and business productivity if a four-day work week were implemented, the majority of evidence shows that productivity can be maintained or increased across the economy at large.”

The committee noted that the concept would need more testing across a wider range of industries and employees, and that the reduction model with no loss of pay or conditions would be easier to implement in office-based rather than non-office-based work.

The Chief Minister said this would need to be a Territory-wide approach rather than just for the public service.

Concerns were raised about how a four-day work week would impact businesses in the CBD that rely on commuters as their customer base.

Overall, the committee also found evidence suggesting a four-day work week could improve staff retention, work-life balance, worker and business productivity, provide people with more time for caring responsibilities, and help address work-related stress and burnout.

While some current industrial law considerations would require changes at a Commonwealth level if the entire Territory transitioned to this new work week, the ACT public service could be transitioned through employment arrangements and enterprise bargaining processes.

“The ACT Government is in a useful position to hold a trial [of this policy] as they are in a unique position of being an employer across a large range of industries due to their combination of state and council-level responsibilities,” the report stated.

“The committee wishes to stress that implementing a four-day work week on as large a scale as the ACT Government would require significant resourcing and preparation and must include widescale stakeholder consultation.”

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Labor backbencher Suzanne Orr has committed to advocating for a four-day work week within the ACT Labor Party and the Parliamentary Labor Caucus.

She explained she supports the policy mainly because of its reported benefits for women.

“A five-day working week is incredibly difficult for those with primary caregiving responsibilities and often unachievable,” Ms Orr said.

Extending the weekend through the four-day work week is a new frontier in the history of the labour movement.”

Ms Orr pointed to the ACT’s nation-leading policies, such as banning invasive, irreversible surgery for intersex people and ending period poverty, as reasons why the Territory is the place to hold the first public service trial.

“If we [did this], we would yet again be showing the other states and territories how it’s done.”

The Australian Public Service has also been seriously considering four-day work weeks for public servants.

A dissenting report was filed by committee member and Canberra Liberals MLA Leanne Castley, who said while she supported flexible working arrangements, she didn’t support the recommendations for a working group and pilot program to be developed.

“I do not believe this inquiry has sufficiently made out an argument to justify [these] recommendations,” she said.

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Most public servent only work 2 to 3 days at most , the rest of the time is padded out with unnecessary meetings and catchup. Also most have a work from home day already .

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