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Aussies working record hours -

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Aussies working record hours

Reporter: Greg Hoy

KERRY O'BRIEN: As we move more and more into an election year, the Prime Minister will no doubt be
banking on maintaining the current low unemployment rate. Economic management is his biggest single
perceived advantage over new Labor leader Kevin Rudd but there are, of course, layers of complexity
behind the stats, complexities that go to much longer hours of work for some and not enough work
for others. One social and economic institute points out, for instance, that many Australian
workers now work harder than their counterparts anywhere in the rest of the industrialised world,
even Japan. Church leaders are expressing concern about the impact of work stress on families, and
one health study points to higher levels of work related depression and more visits to doctors. So
much for the lotus land of a few decades ago, and while we're awash in consumer goods and lifestyle
choices, as a nation we're also awash in personal debt. Greg Hoy reports on some of the realities
of a modern working life.

GREG HOY: Summer time and the living, well, the late Melbourne photographer Rennie Ellis celebrated
the theory that life's a beach down under and lately, you might have agreed with him. Before he
headed off to the beach himself to smell the salt air and tread the sandy foreshores, the head
helmsman of the nation's capital gathered the press at the prime ministerial mansion on Sydney's
foreshore to remind Australians how good things are right now, as measured by historically low
unemployment figures.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: I think the jobs figures today are wonderful. And isn't this what it's
all about? There's no greater indicator, there's no greater mark of economic success than low

GREG HOY: Enough to raise some eyebrows to the heavens. No one denies we have much to be thankful
for but there's a genuine concern about a strong undercurrent in the workplace that is largely
ignored in Australian economic policy.

REV DR PHILLIP FREIER, ANGLICAN ARCHBISHOP OF MELBOURNE: Modern hours of work that span all of the
time we have available seem to pay no heed to the ancient wisdom that saw even the Creator take
rest on the seventh day.

DR CLIVE HAMILTON, AUSTRALIA INSTITUTE: Australians now work more hours each year than workers in
any other country in the industrialised world, more than the super-efficient Germans, more than the
Americans, who only get one or two weeks annual leave, more even than the Japanese, who are famous
for a phenomenon known as karoshe or death by overwork.

TIM WILSON, INSTITUTE OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS: It's important that we understand that some people's
working hours and their workloads have increased. That's partly to do with a skills shortage and
the fact that we have an ever-rising number of job advertisements and they're not all being filled,
because we do have a skills shortage.

CHARLES BRASS, AUSTRALIAN FUTURES FOUNDATION: The work force is really being divided into two
groups those who are working full time and who are working longer and longer and more intense hours
throughout a seven day working week, and those who are working part time, casual, what we tend to
call contingent, who are struggling to find the requisite amount of work under appropriate
conditions to allow them to live their lives.

JOHN HOWARD: We now have the best labour market in this country in my lifetime, the best. This is
what it is all about. If it's not about providing jobs for Australians, and thereby security and
stability for Australian families, what is economic policy all about?

GREG HOY: It's an emotional argument, riddled with contradictions. There are, of course, those
workaholics delighted to have longer working hours. Just as, conversely, there are those economists
who seriously question the accuracy of unemployment figures, suggesting they mask a serious
underemployment problem. That's an old argument that predates the Howard Government but one, it's
argued, that's more pronounced with the deregulation of the workplace and the casualisation of many
full time jobs.

CHARLES BRASS: Now, according to the statisticians, a job is working for pay two hours a fortnight.
So, if you create 20 jobs at two hours a fortnight, that's the same thing as creating one full time
job. But the statistics look like 20 jobs have been created whereas otherwise it's only one. But
I'll give you a statistic. In 1963, 65 per cent of the Australian population worked nine to five,
Monday to Friday. In 2007, that's 8 per cent.

TIM WILSON: People want choice in their work environment and that means that some people will be
casualised, but the casualisation of that is a demonstration of their choice, to be able to balance
out their life, work and personal choices.

GREG HOY: You sure they want that?

TIM WILSON: I think different people want different things. It's not one thing or the other.
Different people want different arrangements in work and a one size fits all category doesn't mean
that Australians are going to have their needs met.

CHARLES BRASS: Underneath what appear to be quite good, politically quite good, economic figures
are actually some quite disturbing human figures and I think that's one of the reasons why this
work-life balance is on the agenda politically at the moment.

GREG HOY: The work life balance is set to be tested as an election issue, with the political
parties divided as to whether recent workplace reforms have helped or exacerbated the problem,
which is compounded by the pressure of rising household debt as the cost of housing soars, and the
risk of rising interest rates a perennial possibility. Indeed, the Australia Institute says rampant
consumerism and unsustainable ambitions of affluence remain a big factor in increasing workloads.
Regardless of the causes, the costs are becoming more evident.

CLIVE HAMILTON: There are plenty of marriages that have broken down as a result of the pressure
that overwork has placed on people. The need to pay off big debts and the excessive hours they
work, and it's tragic.

PHILLIP FREIER: And you add that then to the reality of many modern workplaces where people are
expected to be available, maybe 24 hours a day, maybe seven days a week, where people are living
with a constant low level of anxiety.

GREG HOY: Researchers like Dr Rennie D'Souza at the ANU's College of Medicine and Health Sciences
have been studying the impact of workplace changes on a sample of 2,250 ACT workers, half public
servants, half not.

DR RENNIE D'SOUZA, MEDICINE AND HEALTH SCIENCES, ANU: They rated low on poor physical health and
they also had higher number of visits to the GP. We also looked at another aspect, looking at job
insecurity and how that was affecting physical and mental health, and we found similar or even
stronger associations between high job insecurity and depression, anxiety and visits to the GP.

GREG HOY: These factors, according to the researchers, had a clear impact on sick leave. The
conclusions drawn are unlikely to be popular with the Government.

RENNIE D'SOUZA: This amount of job demands and long working hours is not going to be sustainable in
the future. It's going to have an effect on people's mental and physical health, it's going to be a
burden on the health care system. That in itself is going to be a large cost for the nation.

GREG HOY: It all makes the next summer holiday seem a long, long way away. So is life really a
beach in Australia these days, or is that just a fanciful notion? It's a question that might well
be answered at the ballot box.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Greg Hoy with that report.

(c) 2007 ABC