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Question: 4-Day Work Week

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:00): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question to the Minister for Industrial Relations on the topic of the four-day work week.

Leave granted.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: A team of Cambridge social scientists have now completed the world's largest trial of the four-day working week. The idea is simple: employees would work four days a week while getting paid the same and earning the same benefits but with the same workload, obviously in a shorter time frame. In 2022, 61 organisations in the UK committed to a 20 per cent reduction in working hours for all staff for six months with no reduction in their wages.

The results spoke for themselves. Over the course of the trial, workers experienced less stress and burnout as a result of reduced anxiety and being able to juggle work, caring responsibilities and social commitments. There was also a better job retention and substantial reduction in sick days taken during this trial period. Company revenue barely changed, even increasing marginally by 1.4 per cent on average for the 23 organisations that were able to provide data. Following the trial, some 92 per cent of companies that took part in the UK pilot program—56 out of the 61—said that they intend to continue with the four-day working week, with 18 companies confirming their change as permanent.

The four-day work week is not limited to the UK. This change has been implemented in other countries, including Iceland, Belgium and Sweden, with trials in Spain, Scotland and Germany currently underway or starting later this year. 4 Day Week Global, a not-for-profit community established to provide a platform for those who are interested in supporting the idea of a four-day work week as part of the future of work, has said it would like to see more employers take the plunge and is lobbying governments to encourage changing legislation to give staff the right to request a four-day pattern. Their campaign director, Joe Ryle, said:

The economy doesn't need us to be working five days a week anymore. It was 100 years ago, the shift to a five-day week, and the economy's transformed since then.

As of this year, the federal Senate work and care committee has also called for a range of policies that would radically adjust our work-life balance, including a four-day work week, making more time for caring responsibilities and boosting our quality of life. My question to the minister is: what steps is the Malinauskas government taking to investigate a four-day working week for South Australians?

 

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (15:02): I thank the honourable member for her question. I have read with interest some of the developments, as the honourable member has outlined, that are occurring internationally, particularly in the private sector space in terms of reduced working hours but at the same pay and how that affects a company overall.

I have had some initial discussion—sorry, I should say from the outset in direct response to the honourable member's question: we do not have a policy in relation to looking to move towards this. However, I think we will keep a keen eye on how this is rolled out in other places around the world. As I understand it, and from what I have read, it has been primarily so far in private sector areas.

I can imagine there would be some difficulty moving, certainly in the short or medium term, in areas the government provides frontline services, in reducing the actual number of days and hours people work where people have to be at a hospital to treat patients or to make the food or as orderlies for inpatients, to have enough staff to cover reduced working hours. I suspect in some areas of what governments do it would be a huge challenge, particularly in a very tight employment market as we face now. So while we don't have a policy in relation to this, it's something I think, not just us but right around the world, we will keep a keen eye on and interest in.

Certainly, as the nature of work changes, society around changes. One area we see at the moment is looking at three-year-old preschool and how the school week works that may not have kept changes with modern family dynamics and the needs of families. Certainly, how families work and how the rest of society works is something that is always evolving, so we will be keen to keep abreast of developments in the future.

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