Productivity from Working Smarter

Updated 1 month ago

Calls for shorter working hours without a reduction in pay have become increasingly louder across Europe, the UK and now New Zealand.  The leader in this debate has been Iceland.  In 2015 and 2017, in response to campaigns by local trade unions and civil society organisations, two
major trials of a shorter working week were initiated by the Reykjavik City Council and the Icelandic National Government.

The trials saw workers in the pilot sites in Iceland, move from a 40-hour week on average to 35 or 36 hours without reduction in pay.

Icelandic Government made the decision to trial this innovation in working hours as a response to concerns about poor work life balance of local public sector workers when compared to other Nordic neighbors.  Icelandic workers faced particularly long hours in marked contrast to Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland.

OECD figures showed that Iceland had the least number of hours per week for leisure and personal care languishing closer to other countries
such as Japan, Chile, and Mexico yet these long work hours were not contributing to greater productivity.

Fatigue and other pressures from the excessive overtime being worked would see work slip, further exacerbating the issue at the expense of personal and family time.  The trials agreed on were at a diverse number and type of workplaces such as Child protection, Police stations,
social service providers, hospitals as well as general 9-5 office work locations.

The scale of the trials combined with the diversity and locations gave the Iceland Government and the Reykjavik City Council a wealth of data that was both quantitative and qualitative to enable real evidence to be captured to show the efficacy of the proposal to reduce the working hours.

Importantly, despite concerns of employers in the private sector and some skepticism amongst managers in the public sector, productivity and
service provision remained the same or improved across most of the trial workplaces.

Worker well-being increased across a range of indicators, from perceived stress and burnout to a healthier and better-balanced life.

Between 2019 and 2021, the outcome from these trials was the agreement of employers and unions to insert the 4-day working week into most
employment contracts.

So successful has this been that by June 2021, 86% of Iceland’s working population are now in employment arrangements that have either moved them to shorter working hours or have facilitative clauses to permit that move during the life of the contract.

Is this something Victoria could consider.

The ongoing Covid pandemic has accelerated new ways to work including from home or in a hybrid arrangement.  The lesson for all from a policy and an industrial perspective has been that the pandemic has fueled the rapid transition to remote work and the unexpected increases in free time as workers no longer must undertake their previous long commutes.

Victoria should take up the initiative and agree to establish a joint workplace pilot so we can take the lessons from Iceland (and soon to be
those from UK and NZ) and develop our own trial across the VPS and wider sector to move to a progressive and productive reduction in working
hours with no loss of pay.

Let’s hope, in this election year, the Andrew’s Government is up for the discussion.

KAREN BATT
Victorian Branch Secretary/Federal Secretary

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