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Thursday, 23 March 2023
Page: 69

Senator BARBARA POCOCK (South Australia) (15:36): Two weeks ago to this day I had the honour of presenting the final report of the Select Committee on Work and Care to the Senate, and since then I've been overwhelmed by the public's response to the report's recommendations, particularly the recommendation for a four-day week trial and the right to disconnect.

Australians are increasingly having to juggle work and unpaid care. Many workers are trying to balance multiple jobs to make ends meet, and technology is causing availability creep, bringing work into rest time. People are working more than ever, whether in unpaid care or in paid work, but not feeling the reward. In fact, real wages are going backwards for many Australians while the cost of living continues to rise. The public response to these issues is clear. We need a new working-time regulation fit for a 21st century workforce. When Australia's labour laws were first set, they were based on the assumption that a worker had a wife at home—someone to care for the kids and run the household. Today, almost half of all workers are women, and neither they nor most men have a partner running their home. On any day of the week, four in 10 workers are juggling their job and care responsibilities. Despite all this change, we're still awaiting a 21st century workplace law that recognises this reality.

This report sets out two things we could do right now to better regulate working time: implement a right to disconnect and trial a four-day work week. The committee heard substantial evidence in favour of the four-day week. Notably, we heard from Momentum Mental Health, a not-for-profit mental health service currently participating in an international four-day week trial. All the organisation's staff have caring responsibilities, and the trial followed the 100-80-100 model—100 per cent of wages, 80 per cent of hours, 100 per cent productivity. The results to date have been amazing. Productivity has been maintained. In some parts of the organisation, it's increased. Client satisfaction, external stakeholder engagement and the number of hours of service delivery have all increased. At the same time, employee sick days have decreased, while measures of happiness, work-life balance and the amount of sleep have increased.

These positive results are reflected in the findings of the world's largest trial of a four-day week, conducted in the UK, which were released around the time of this report. It gives the same positive picture. An 18-month trial at Unilever in New Zealand, showed a four-day week brought about a 34 per cent fall in absenteeism, a 33 per cent fall in stress and a 60 per cent fall in work-life conflict. Today, we've heard about a new agreement at Oxfam, where 90 employees have negotiated an enterprise agreement with a four-day week. The evidence could not be any clearer: a four-day week is good for business, good for workers, good for carers and good for the economy. It's worth considering a recommendation that received wide support in our report for implementing a trial of a four-day week more broadly. Reducing working hours is of course just one piece of the puzzle. We also need to take action to reinforce limits on working time, with a legally protected right to disconnect—a right to turn off your phone or your technology—and look after yourself, your family and friends.

Evidence given to the inquiry told us that our constant connection to work through our phone has no limits, but it has many and varied negative consequences for people's health and for our relationships. It affects people in insecure jobs, in particular, where they're constantly waiting for the phone to vibrate, telling them when their next shift or hours might be. It also affects people in full-time jobs, who have to check for texts and emails outside of hours, worried they might have missed an important piece of information, long after they've knocked off for the day. As a result, as a nation Australians are working massive amounts of unpaid overtime—$93 billion worth across the economy, which is an average of 4.5 hours each per week. This amounts to a very massive level of wage theft.

The Greens want to see a legal right to disconnect from work, and Labor have joined us in a majority report, which was a key recommendation of this report. On Monday, my colleague Adam Bandt introduced a bill to the House that, if passed, would create a law that prevents employers from contacting employees outside working time unless it was essential or for the welfare of the worker. It's time to update our standards in this area, as has been done in France, Spain, Ireland, Canada and many other countries. I commend the government for supporting the recommendations of the Work and Care committee's report. Workers and families can't wait any longer.

I urge the government to support our bill to implement a right to disconnect for all workers and to undertake a comprehensive four-day work week trial. It's beyond time that our workplace relations system and our labour law caught up with the way we actually live and reflected our 21st-century workforce.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Steele-John, if you're speaking on this document, at the end of your contribution could you consider whether you wish to keep it in the list?