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Four-day work week: Trialling the future of work

Victoria Quayle ||

There is no question that one of the most intriguing topics in the employment law space at the moment is the proposed introduction of a standard four-day working week.

This line of thinking has been trending – not just in Australia, but across the globe – and it seems like it is here to stay…at least for a little while longer.

So, what is happening with the proposed four-day working week? Well, quite a lot.

Oxfam opens up to four-day working week

In a big move by Oxfam Australia, its full-time employees that are currently working 35-hours per week may soon get the opportunity to reduce their hours to 30-hours per week, without any loss of pay.

This is thanks to a proposed a new Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) which is yet to be given approval by the Fair Work Commission. Oxfam Australia is expected to trial the four-day work week system with its full-time employees. Part-time employees will have their hours and entitlements prorated based upon a full-time workload of 30-hours per week.

Keep your eyes on this space.

Senate Committee recommendation

It’s not just Oxfam Australia that has come to the party, with a move to phase in the four-day work week. A Federal Parliamentary Committee has recommended that more companies trial the four-day work week with the backing of the Federal Government.

The Committee’s proposed model is known as the ‘100:80:100’ model, which essentially means that employees work 80 per cent of the week (four days) while suffering no loss of pay and maintaining full productivity levels. Maintaining productivity is likely to be a key condition of the four-day work week model actually being embraced by employers in Australia.

The trial is expected to occur in selected industries and an Australian university.

What are the takeaways from companies that have already trialled four-day work weeks?

There are already companies in Australia and overseas that have trialled a four-day work week. Early signs indicate that they have seen an improvement in productivity, work-life balance and the health and wellbeing of their employees.

It’s pretty easy to see why a growing number of employees are pushing for a four-day work week. The main theoretical benefits to employees are:

  • Improved productivity;
  • Improved mental health and wellbeing;
  • Greater flexibility, for working parents in particular; and,
  • Reduced frequency of personal or carers leave being taken.

While the above benefits appear on paper and there have been reports of success in other companies implementing a four-day work week, the real test will be when it is applied on a broader scale across different industries to see how universally compatible it truly is.

A concern may be that the four-day work week simply won’t suit industries where hours of work on the current 38-hour/five-day work week are a necessary fact of life and that moving to a model which promotes a 30-hours/four-day work week would prove too difficult. Further, it could also be said that the move to a four-day work week will disincentivise employers from providing opportunities for pay rises where they don’t feel that productivity is being maintained or improved with a four-day work week.

Time will tell as to whether the four-day work week is something that moves from being just a ‘good idea’ to a tried and proven reality in the Australian workplace.

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