A 4-Day Work Week Sounds Great, But What’s the Cost?


There is no such thing as a free lunch. So goes the saying. Someone always has to pay.

The question is only—who and when?

This is a truism based on our experience as a society over millennia of generations.

Similarly, there is no such thing as a four-day week with no diminution in income without someone paying and paying dearly.

Wages need, as of necessity, to be linked to productivity to be sustainable. High wages are inflationary unless linked to productivity.

In the Howard era, real wages rose by 19 percent without inflationary pressures because the government and employers drove productivity reforms.

The recent, Greens-chaired Senate Committee report recommending the trialling of a four-day week for workers at full pay will only end in tears for employers, the Australian economy, and therefore ultimately, the workers themselves.

If less work for more pay was actually feasible, it would have been implemented centuries ago.

Australia has witnessed the unedifying wage gouging pursued by union officials in the name of “wage justice” which has triggered the collapse of its manufacturing base and the pursuit of automation to go into overdrive.

As a result, those higher wages were enjoyed by workers until employers decided to close shop.

On reflection, those workers would have preferred to keep their jobs on a lower salary than get a short and unsustainable boost to their pay.

An employee works at the Multi Slide Industries manufacturing plant in Adelaide, Australia, on Aug. 12, 2013. (Morne de Klerk/Getty Images)

Then what does it tell us about the efficiency and work practices of enterprises that claim no difference in levels of productivity when comparing a five- or four-day work week? Management surely has a lot for which to answer in those circumstances.

One enterprise is reported as saying that they were able to curtail one-hour meetings to half an hour and such efficiencies and benefits were listed by advocates pushing for a shorter working week.

Hopefully it had not escaped the management’s thought processes to realise that cutting meeting times could have been implemented without cutting the work week by 20 percent.

The surveys relied upon by the committee needs very close and robust analysis. The analysis was pursued by an organisation promoting the four-day week, and where the base of business activity came from a COVID impacted economy.

The surveys also tell us what everyone could have told us without the need for surveys—people like a shorter work week.

Most of us see work as a necessary task if not an outright evil to put bread on the table and pay the day-to-day expenses of running a household.

We Need to Consider the Consequences

As we deal with a cost-of-living surge and increasing interest rates, the Greens claim that Australians are mired in a “work and care crisis.”

In the real world, the focus of Australians is in balancing their household budgets.

When businesses that provide services to their fellow Australians need to roster on an extra 20 percent in their workforce, that cost will be passed on.

Even the most uninquisitive mind would realise that a supermarket confronted with this scenario must increase shelf prices or direct even more customers to the self-service checkouts, putting even more shop assistants out of work.

A staff member packs oysters at the Sydney Fish Market in Sydney, Australia, on April 14, 2022. (Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

It seems the lesson of history is that we don’t learn the lessons of history and simply make the same errors again and again.

Asserting that the same productivity can be harnessed in four days—as opposed to five days—is a sad reflection on our rate of productivity.

The implementation of mandatory rostered days off has had the impact of forcing cost increases in those sectors that adopted it.

In turn, it has seen building and construction costs escalate and passed on to homeowners and tenants alike. And then we discuss the housing crisis in our nation and wonder why it has become so costly to build a house …

There are flow on consequences that need to be honestly set out and considered in promoting any change to ensure it is truly beneficial in the long term.

In a time where economies and businesses are recovering from the impact of COVID restrictions, it might be beneficial to allow the recovery to continue unabated without inflicting another hit through a four-day week.

Allowing mums and dads more time with children, being involved in community groups, and exercising more are all valuable considerations in determining work/life balance. In nations where the economy has faltered, work/life balance is a secondary matter as the total focus is food on the table.

Australia which has had it so good for so long should be exceptionally wary before making a short-term feel-good populist move without considering the flow on consequences which future generations will need to wear.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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