Interview: Trade Secrets
Industrial: It’s About Overtime, Stupid
Unions: Full Steam Ahead
Bad Boss: The BBQ Battle Axe
Economics: Different Dimensions of Debt
History: Raking the Coals
History Special: Wherever the Necessity Exists
History Special: Learning from the Past
History Special: A 'Cosy Relationship'
Politics: Regime Change for Saddam
International: World War
Corporate: Industrious Thinking
Review: Jack High
Culture: Duffy’s Song
Satire: A Nation of Sooks
Poetry: Mr Flexibility
The Locker Room
Month In Review
Lessons from History
State Based Organising
Gino on the Gong
It’s About Overtime, Stupid
A cynic could argue it was like asking junkies to come up with a national strategy for solving the drug problem. Yet, last week's Working Hours Summit hosted by the ACTU, well attended by political, union and community leaders - by admission workaholics each one - produced a frank, constructive discussion which signalled a further maturation in the debate over working hours in Australia.
The summit was the latest initiative by the ACTU to place working hours on the agenda for unions, community organisations and political parties following the historic reasonable hours case conducted earlier this year.
There's No Problem, There's A Crisis
To ensure the issue doesn't get swept under the carpet the ACTU has put considerable resources and research into establishing the full extent of the hours problem in Australia. ACTU Assistant Secretary Richard Marles eloquently outlined to the summit the extent to which we have become overtime junkies:
'We do not have a problem in relation to long hours of work in Australia - we have a crisis,' he said.
'31% of our full time workforce now work in excess of 48 hours a week. Two million Australians work on average in excess of 50 hours a week, each and every week. In Europe, the European Directive on Working Time caps working hours at 48 hours a week. So that is, 31% of our full time workforce are working in conditions which in Western Europe would be unlawful.'
'More than half of that number are non-managerial award workers. It is true to say that managers and young executives climbing up the corporate ladder work disproportionately long hours. But it is also true to say that the phenomenon of long hours of work now extends to every occupational group in the workforce and to every industry within the economy.'
It's About Hours Not Money
Tony Beck from the FSU detailed how increased workloads and the new competitive sales culture of the finance sector created an environment where finance worker were squeezed of a million hours of overtime per week - 39 per cent of it unpaid, a shameful labour larceny.
The FSU's research shows workloads, intensification of work and number of hours are more critical to members in this sector than a pay increase.
This is consistent with the ACTU's latest workplace survey of over 8000 workers that shows hours are a critical issue across all industries. 28 per cent of respondents said they would like to work less hours and a further 10 per cent indicated they were dissatisfied with the rostering or the configuration of their hours. If more confirmation was necessary a HILDA survey conducted by Professor Mark Wooden, a witness for the employers in the ACTU's Reasonable Hours case, showed 36 per cent of workers have a preference of shorter hours.
Democrats Raise Their Cap
Democrat Senator Andrew Murray argued an hours cap for specified workers in the interests of community safety is a good place to start with unreasonable hours.
'It might not be seen presently as an ideal solution, but we do need to consider whether an outright cap on maximum hours that can be worked is necessary to protect workers from exploitation, and to protect employers from workers who are 'overtime junkies'', he said.
Simon Crean said people should not have to choose between being a good worker and a good parent and identified one of the key problems in resolving the hours problem - the financial stress families are under.
'We know the financial pressure, quite frankly, that families are under. This is a Government that is the highest taxing Government in Australia's history. It is a Government that has seen credit card and household debt balloon to record proportions. No wonder people are under financial pressure. No wonder they are putting off having families. No wonder they have to work the overtime,' he said.
The Recalcitrants Reply
Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott acknowledged that health and safety was an issue in hours and that hours have grown over the last two decades but his attitude is: that's life and you just have to live with it. The role of this government, it seems, will be to sit on its hands and leave the solution to 'the individual' in whom Abbott professed enormous faith (!!)
In response to a question about the long hours worked by young doctors Abbott was dismissive. Trivialising what many believe to be an alarming problem Abbott recounted that in his university days among his many medical student friends it was a seen as a sign of 'status' for their beepers to go off at dinner parties.
A similar line about leaving the problem to individuals came from employer representatives. Peter Anderson from ACCI conceded the problem exists particularly the control of hours but differed from the unions when it came to solutions arguing the problem was to be dealt with at the enterprise level and was strongly opposed to legislative solutions.
The Next Step
Among all the contributions at the summit by a variety of experts and political and union leaders the most telling came from Victorian electrician Ivan Bolta. Ivan recounted how the quality of his life soared after the introduction of a 10 hour cap on overtime by Victorian electricians following vigorous debate and then action by their union, the ETU. Ivan spoke how he was able to reconnect with his kids and regain control of his life as his hours became more regulated.
There have been many hours campaigns in Australia - for the 40 hour week, the 38 hour week, the 19 day month, the 9 day fortnight, the 36 hour week - but historically they have all been about regulating normal hours. Despite these historic wins we still have an hours explosion.
In the last two years the issue has come a long way. Union initiatives are beginning to address the issue through the bargaining process but it's not the absolute answer. There's still a fundamental debate to be had about how we regulate hours across the board says Richard Marles.
'Western Europe has adopted a 48 hour cap through the European Directive on Working Time. The UK, a country which has a similar working time profile to our own, has put in place that directive within their own nation. And they have done so in a way which has not seen their economy go down the tubes. They have done so in a way which has not seen the sky fall in. And they have done so in a way which does appear to have reduced working time in their country,' he says.
'And so perhaps it is to Western Europe that we should look. At least in so far as commencing a debate about whether or not, at this time in our history, it is appropriate to embark upon a legislated 48 hour cap on working time.'
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