Greens leader Richard Di Natale made headlines last month calling for a debate about shorter working hours. Di Natale made the point that on average people work 44 hours a week. This is more than in any other developed nation.
At the same time underemployment in Australia has hit a record high of 8.7%. So while many people are working very long hours (often without overtime pay), others are struggling to get enough hours to make ends meet.
There is definitely a case for a shorter working week and a sharing out of the work, but the question is who should pay for this? Di Natale said the Greens are not suggesting any specific model but the implication is that it would come with a corresponding cut in pay.
With wage growth already stagnant, a further drop in pay is not an option for most. Productivity and profits are up so there is no reason why working people should have to accept a pay cut in order to enjoy some of the fruits of their labour.
Socialists wholeheartedly agree with the need for shorter working hours, but by not suggesting a socialist model the Greens run the risk of allowing right-wing economists to dominate the debate. This could lead to support for the reform being lost.
Socialists call for the immediate introduction of a 35-hour week without a loss of pay. This would help to share out available work and ensure that it is those who profiteer that cover the costs. We support a flexible approach to how this would be implemented, for example some workers may prefer a 7-hour day while others a 4-day week.
In reality this is a very modest demand. If all the potential of people’s labour was utilised properly we could move towards a situation where people only worked 6 or 4 hours a day. That, however, won’t be handed to us – it will need to be fought for.
By Anthony Main