Getting working hours right
Remember that ad: "not too heavy, not too light; just right"? Well, when it comes to working hours it seems that it's either too many or too few and seldom "just right". What is regarded as "just right" varies from country to country, depending on the strength and policies of the trade union movement, the economic and political environment, work availability and a multitude of other factors. In Australia, as well as in other developed Western countries, traditional working patterns and job security are being challenged by casualisation, part-time work, contracting out, longer hours and unpaid overtime. In the name of "choice" and "flexibility", enterprise agreements and individual contracts are resulting in more and more workers being forced into casual and part-time jobs with no security. British workers slave amongst the longest hours in Europe. Thirty per cent of all full-time employees there work in excess of 46 hours, and 30 per cent of all full-time male workers are working more than 48 hours per week. The European Union (EU) average for workers working in excess of 48 hours is 11 per cent. Australia is not far behind Britain — full-time workers averaging 42.2 hours per week. In the United States, excessive working hours are of similar proportions to those in Britain, with workers in both countries battling a lack of regulation. In Europe, Denmark represents the "best case" with average working time for full-time employees at 37 hours per week. In Finland the average is 38 hours, with France and Ireland on 39 hours per week. In both Germany and France, the staged introduction of a standard 35-hour week is under way as a result of sustained trade union campaigns. Part-time work is deliberately regulated and managed in some European countries to reflect the genuine preferences of workers. This is especially so in Norway where many women and men work part-time by choice, and where social payments are designed to supplement part-time incomes as a legitimate and accepted arrangement. Most European countries now have legislation preventing discrimination against part-time workers. Unions in Australia are beginning to take up the question of shorter working hours. The ACTU's Employment Security and Working Hours campaign, as its title suggests, links the question of hours (under-and over-employment) with job security. Shorter hours, new jobs Members of the Electrical Trades Union at the Victorian Docklands Stadium construction site have won an agreement which combines shorter working hours with more job opportunities for apprentices and older workers. Normal working hours are 36 per week, spread over a four-week cycle and nine-day fortnight. There is an overtime limit of 10 hours per person per week. The agreement specifies a minimum ratio of one apprentice for every three tradespersons and one in six tradespersons aged 45 or over. This was accompanied by an increase in the hourly wage rate and site allowance. The ETU estimates that the agreement will lead to more than 100 new apprentices on the project.