A Senate committee tasked with considering how to modernise work and care arrangements has recommended the government conduct a trial of a four-day work week. It also recommended considering a legal ‘right to disconnect’ outside of work hours and a ‘right to say no’ to extra hours.
Parliament sets up committees to consider a wide variety of issues. The committees include politicians from across the political spectrum. Their recommendations are not binding, and members will often publish their own thoughts separately. This committee was set up last year to look into how workplace laws could better support people with unpaid caring responsibilities.
The committee’s final report recommended a trial of a four-day work week to see whether it could give greater flexibility to carers, as well as other benefits like improving wellbeing and retention. The report cited multiple successful trials across the world, including a recent small-scale Australian trial. It recommended the government trial the idea in a range of sectors across the country and partner with university researchers to evaluate the results.
The report also noted the rise of what it called ‘availability creep’, where workers often work much longer than the official ‘full-time’ amount of 38 hours a week and are expected to be responsive outside of work hours. It recommended further consideration of a ‘right to disconnect’ outside hours, preventing employers from contacting employees except in an emergency. It also recommended a ‘right to say no’ to extra hours without negative consequences and two weeks’ notice of any roster changes.
The report also recommended a number of changes to carer arrangements including better access to carer leave, more support for childcare and a ‘care credit’ scheme that would pay superannuation to people who take time out of the workforce for care purposes. It suggested it was “time for a new 21st century work and care social contract… a new right to care, alongside the right to work.”
The committee was chaired by Greens Senator Barbara Pocock, and the Greens endorsed all the recommendations. The Labor members supported the recommendations “in principle” but noted the government faced financial “constraints” and many of the recommendations were expensive. The Coalition members “noted” some recommendations but said they did not support a “regimented and legalistic” approach to work law. “The employer/employee relationship is better when approached from a position of flexibility and common sense,” they said.