The Guardian June 23, 1999


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.

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