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Experts consider the future of the four day work week -

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MICHAEL VINCENT, REPORTER: In Australia, the experience of an enforced four-day working week is usually only offered to workers in struggling businesses.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER 1: Incat is Tasmania's largest private employer with more than 900 on the payroll. They're now fighting for their jobs with today's ultimatum to reduce hours or face redundancy.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Workers at Incat, the catamaran manufacturer, were told they'd have to choose between a four-day week or loss of 200 jobs. These examples go back decades.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER 2: Johnson's Tannery here at Mount Barker is among the three biggest leather manufacturers in Australia. But the current economic downturn which is hitting industry generally has forced the company to go on to a four-day week.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Now, the Greens are proposing that Australian workers have the right to tell their employers they will only work a four-day working week. If you believe the research, about a quarter of Australian workers actually want to work less. That's right. According to figures taken from the quaintly named HILDA, the Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey, about 23 per cent of Australian workers want to cut their hours.

BARBARA POCOCK, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA EMERITUS PROFESSOR: We have been moving in the wrong direction in recent decades, with a growing proportion of Australians working very long hours, and a lot of workers, especially women, or people with responsibilities for care of others, looking for shorter hours and flexibility.

MICHAEL VINCENT: In more recent times, the US state of Utah has been trialling a four-day working week for public servants. Those public servants have tried to cram their hours into those four days. But there was a public backlash because government services weren't open on Fridays. Since the turn of the century, France has also gone with a four-day working week for some of its workers, as a way of boosting employment.

SAUL ESLAKE, ECONOMIST: The French are good at many things, but economic management isn't one of them. Their economy has grown at barely more than 1 per cent per annum over the past seven years. That's less than Japan, for example. Their unemployment rate hasn't been below seven per cent since 1983. There isn't anything I can think of the French have done in the economic sphere that I would want to see emulated here in Australia.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Saul Eslake rejects any feel-good factor associated with working less.

SAUL ESLAKE: Well, it may make some feel good, but those who have lower incomes than they would like because they're working fewer hours than they would like, those businesses who are less profitable because of measures like this, and therefore employ fewer people, I don't think they would be happy as a result of a change along these lines. And there's no evidence to suggest that the French people think their economy is better managed.

MICHAEL VINCENT: But flexibility of employment is something that is gaining traction in Australia.

BARBARA POCOCK: I think many workers in Australia now are working quite extended hours, especially men. And we have a growing body of evidence which suggests it's not good for their mental or their physical health. And so I think a lot of workers intuitively know that. They want to spend more time looking after themselves, with their families and communities.

Reductions in working time are timely. We haven't had a serious reduction in working time in Australia for a very long time. We've got very flat wage growth, and people may well want to substitute having more time for the fact that they're not getting a pay rise.

SAUL ESLAKE: One of the growing concerns of people in employment is their inability to work as many hours as they are willing and available to work, which is, in turn, adversely affecting their incomes. What's been proposed here would just make that problem worse, and perhaps make it worse for more people.

MICHAEL VINCENT: The Greens have also called for a universal basic income. Everyone receives an unconditional sum of money, regardless of their circumstances.

CASSANDRA GOLDIE, ACOSS CEO: For us, we say this is a great debate for us to have. Our top priority, though, must be to lift the level of the basic income for people who really need it yesterday.

MICHAEL VINCENT: The Greens haven't costed it, but ACOSS estimates a raise in just jobless payments by $50 a week per week per person would cost the taxpayer about $2 billion a year.

CASSANDRA GOLDIE: But it would be the single most important measure to reduce the level of poverty in Australia. And, of course, I think we all agree that inequality is an increasing challenge for us. It's unacceptable that we've got people who are locked out of paid work, who cannot afford to eat, to cover the very basic costs, so I really welcome this debate. I think it helps for people across the community to think about how do we provide the security for people that for circumstances completely outside your control, you cannot get a job.