RIKKI HENDON: Is it time for Australia to embrace a four-day workweek?

Rikki Hendon
The Nightly
RIKKI HENDON: It’s time to give new life to the principle of equal time for work, rest and recreation.
RIKKI HENDON: It’s time to give new life to the principle of equal time for work, rest and recreation. Credit: Edgars Sermulis/STOATPHOTO - stock.adobe.com

Have you noticed delays in accessing public services, like front-line housing support?

Perhaps you’ve had to reschedule your child’s appointment with the School Dental Service more than once. Or maybe your attempts to close mum’s taxi service by booking your teenager a practical driving assessment have been thwarted by a lack of availability.

Australians want access to robust, quality and timely public services. As the proud leader of WA’s public sector union, I hear the stories of dedicated and hard-working public sector workers who deliver these services every day.

Sign up to The Nightly's newsletters.

Get the first look at the digital newspaper, curated daily stories and breaking headlines delivered to your inbox.

Email Us
By continuing you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy.

They care for us in times of need and keep us safe from harm. They foster our State’s economic development and protect our environment. They support our children in public schools and the skilling up of our workforce in TAFEs.

But they’re doing it with one hand tied behind their backs because the public sector is haemorrhaging staff and can’t fill vacant positions.

Low unemployment, high competition for skilled labour and a lack of real wage growth thanks to years of restrictive government policies have created the perfect storm.

We’re all paying the price. In June, a record number of child protection cases could not be allocated to a caseworker, leaving 1189 vulnerable children in WA without dedicated support, largely due to a 17 per cent decline in FTE available for casework since January 2023.

Last year, the WA Government realised it had failed to achieve timely environmental approvals for critical resources projects.

Rumour is they will be outsourced, very likely to the same people who have left the sector for better pay and conditions.

And if you live south of the river, I hope you’re prepared to drive as far as Joondalup if you need a practical driving assessment, with little to nothing available in the next few months at local centres.

The independent Salaries and Allowances Tribunal last month acknowledged the attraction and retention concerns facing WA public sector CEOs, awarding increases on top of recent “adjustments” to deliver eyewatering pay rises.

Meanwhile, the Cook Government presented a first pay and conditions offer to the workers who directly deliver our public services that simply did not cut it. It would not have enticed the next generation of public sector workers and would not have stemmed the flow of experienced staff to other sectors.

That’s why public sector union delegates overwhelmingly rejected the offer and committed to rolling action.

This week, hundreds of members will kick off this rolling action, sending the first of many messages to the Cook Government that it needs to come back to the bargaining table, spend some of its seventh consecutive surplus, and deliver a genuine offer to public sector workers of WA to enable them to provide the public services West Australians rely on.

The Government can’t just tinker at the edges, it needs to think and act boldly. It needs to invest in wage repair.

UnionsWA research found after seven years of restrictive wage caps, the real wages of some public sector workers have fallen behind by up to 12 per cent.

The CPSU/CSA has sought meaningful steps to remedy this, with a fair and balanced pay claim of 7 per cent and 5 per cent in the first two years of a new collective agreement.

It needs to provide conditions that reflect our changing world.

Public sector workers are currently entitled to 14 weeks of paid parental leave, but only four weeks if they’re the secondary caregiver.

It’s time to abolish this outdated way of dividing up caregiving responsibilities and introduce 18 weeks of paid leave for both caregivers to share in the early moments of their child’s life.

And it needs to restore balance.

I reflect on how much the world of work has changed since union members won the historic eight-hour workday.

Now, workers in dual-income households slog their guts out just to make ends meet, working long hours in jobs where they’re expected to do more with less.

So little is left in the tank for a happy, healthy life with family and friends.

It’s time to give new life to the principle of equal time for work, rest and recreation.

That’s why CPSU/CSA members are asking the Government for a four-day workweek trial in the WA public sector, which will enable evidence-based decisions to apply the model more broadly.

The Government must stand out from the crowd as an employer of choice if it hopes to address the attraction and retention crisis. It needs to invest in our public services and the people who deliver them.

CPSU/CSA members are sending a message to the Cook Government; without bold thinking and serious action, its ability to deliver public services for West Australians is at serious risk.

Rikki Hendon is the branch secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union/Civil Service Association.

Latest Edition

The front page of The Nightly for 12-07-2024

Latest Edition

Edition Edition 12 July 202412 July 2024

Bumbling Biden has Americans hitting the panic button.