Senate debates

Wednesday, 10 May 2023


Workplace Relations

7:30 pm

Photo of Linda WhiteLinda White (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I'm going to talk about the four-day working week trial that I started to talk about yesterday. I'm incredibly pleased to say that the speech I'm about to give has been drafted for me by Nellie Halpen, who is an intern from the Australian National University and who has been working in my office as part of the program with parliament. Nellie has been helping and learning in our office but also doing a fantastic project and research on superannuation and the early release program under the previous government. I look forward to the results of her research, particularly about the effect on women. But I am grateful to her for putting together this speech, which is about the four-day working week trial. We talked about that in the Select Committee on Work and Care, but, most recently, I understood from my former union that the concept of a four-day working week has been certainly gaining significant traction globally due to the measurable effects on productivity and quality of life.

Just recently, the Australian Services Union members at Oxfam Australia voted up an enterprise agreement that adopts a four-day working week trial. This six-month pilot will allow Oxfam's 90 permanent full-time employees to opt for 30 weekly hours over four days without any loss of pay. This agreement is the first of its kind in Australia, the first to be formalised with an enterprise bargaining agreement and the first to be approved by the Fair Work Commission. It's a landmark achievement, and I congratulate Imogen Sturni and the team at the Victorian Private Sector Branch of the Australian Services Union for negotiating this agreement. Having negotiated many agreements myself, I know how hard it is to get something new in an agreement.

The four-day working week seeks more than just increases in productivity. So far, trials have demonstrated that workers who participated in these schemes experience holistic benefits from higher wellbeing to less burn-out. As a person with a lifelong interest in improving conditions for workers, it's important to me that the government continues to protect worker wellbeing through considering the merits of the four-day working week and closely observing the outcome of the Oxfam ASU trial and others like it.

As a member of the Select Committee on Work and Care, I heard substantial evidence that supports the idea that a four-day working week can make work more flexible for women and families. Industries where work is relatively inflexible such as health and education are ideal candidates for four-day working week trials. These industries are also dominated by women. Further, we know that seven in every ten primary carers are women. The Oxfam ASU agreement and previous four-day working week trials acknowledged that caring responsibilities still mainly fall to women and that, in fact, we can provide them with more flexibility.

The widespread push for a four-day working week appears promising. There will be challenges in applying this change to workplace law across all sectors of the economy. However, the Oxfam ASU trial is paving the way forward and is demonstrating again the potential benefits that can be yielded from a four-day working week. I look forward to seeing the results of the Oxfam ASU four-day working week pilot and commend them in their efforts to embrace 21st century workforce changes. If we're going to ever address the challenges that people face balancing work and care we need innovative solutions. We cannot be stuck in the past, because work is not stuck in the past and families are not stuck in the past.

Talking of not being stuck in the past, can I also take this opportunity to acknowledge the election of a progressive Victorian Labor woman Mary Doyle to the seat of Aston on 1 April in a once-in-a-100-year election victory. Mary Doyle, the new member for Aston, has a long history of fighting for workplace change. She will no doubt be the advocate for working people of Aston that they deserve and have gone without for so long. I congratulate Mary and the team that ran the stunning campaign to elect a genuine local with an unwavering commitment to this area. I look forward to working with her for many years to come.


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