As the economic downturn gets worse, thousands of workers are losing their jobs or being forced to cut their hours. Big business is trying to make ordinary people pay for the crisis through unemployment and pay cuts. But one of the best ways to fight unemployment is to fight for shorter hours with no loss of pay.
Australia has some of the longest working hours in the developed world. Full-time employees are working an average of 44 hours per week and one in five workers put in more than 50 hours a week! To make matters worse many who work overtime don’t get paid for the extra hours.
We have a situation where one section of the workforce desperately wants to cut back on overtime while others don’t get enough hours. Some surveys have shown that nearly a third of workers want to reduce their hours, but one in five part-time workers in Australia want more hours than they currently get. With so many people working long hours, and others struggling to make ends meet, it makes sense to share out the work.
If a 35-hour week was implemented in Australia we could immediately free up millions of hours of work that could be translated into thousands more jobs. This would have a big impact on reducing unemployment and lead to more leisure time and a better quality of life. Among other things it would also mean healthier lifestyles and safer workplaces.
For years during the economic ‘boom’ times, company profits soared while workers wages struggled to keep up with inflation. If employers claim they can not afford to deliver shorter hours without cutting pay workers should demand to know where all the profits have gone.
Employers are opposed to shorter hours because, under capitalism, time is money. From their point of view forcing people to work longer hours means more profits. When bosses ask people to cut their hours they also want to see a corresponding cut in pay. This should be opposed.
Australian workers have a proud history of fighting for shorter hours. In 1856 construction workers in Melbourne were among the first in the world to win an eight hour day. In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) called for a 35-hour week and then even a 30-hour week! These ideas and traditions need to be retaken up by the labour movement today.
The fact that capitalism has not been able to provide people with secure jobs and that the working week has increased over the past thirty years is one indication that this system is no longer taking society forward. Alongside fighting unemployment, and the effects of the recession, we also need to fight for socialism – a system that puts people before profits and where gains in productivity would lead to a better standard of life for all.
By SP reporters