Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (17:14): I welcome and am thankful for having the opportunity to speak about a four-day work week trial. We know during COVID we have been doing so many things differently, and for some of us that has been a struggle. I know for many people working from home or not having work at all has been really, really, very difficult. But we have been doing things that have been working, and we have learned how to work more flexibly. We have learned that we can work at home.
We have learned that we can work out a bit of a work-life balance, although those with small children or school-age children would be probably struggling with what their new work-life balance actually is.
But back in 2018 we looked at the research around more flexible working and in particular a four-day work week. Now, this is not a new idea, but it is a good idea, and it is something that I think we should look at adopting as we come out of COVID, as we have learned to do things differently and as we have learned that there are other things in life than just work. Maybe some of us in this chamber have not got that message, but many people in society have. They want to be able to walk their kids to school in the morning. They want to be able to be home to kick the ball in the evenings, but work generally precludes that. A four-day work week would enable that greater flexibility. As the Parliamentary Budget Office has found, not only does it make for more flexible and better working conditions for workers but it is cheaper. It saves money.
This is not something radical that just the social enterprises and the new ventures are doing. It is not something that just the IT companies are doing. One of the first companies to really trial this seriously was actually an insurance company, Perpetual Guardian. They trialled a four-day working week, and they thought, ‘Let’s see how we go’. They found that 78 per cent of their employees said they were better able to manage their work-life balance. There was a considerable drop in stress levels, and they had their workers actually working less hours but being more productive.
I encourage people to go to the Parliamentary Budget Office website; there is some really interesting work there. But on this we asked them to consider what a four-day work week trial would look like in a discrete government department, because we know often governments can provide the levers for the rest of society to pick up.
I met with the Treasurer yesterday about this, and he was somewhat surprised that we had chosen his department. We said, ‘How about a four-day week in the Treasury department? This will save you, Treasurer, I assure you, at least $3.8 million a year’. This is in actual fact without anyone really going home with less money in their pay packet, but it has the flow-on effect that when someone is not working five days a week they can organise their life more easily around work. It means they might not all be starting at 9 o’clock in the morning. Mr Barton and I have a little fan club for Infrastructure Victoria and in particular Michel. He said, ‘Fiona, infrastructure is not necessarily about building; it’s just about management’. If 15 per cent of people did not start work at 9.00 am, we would not need another tram, we may not need another road. It could considerably improve our congestion.
In the work that the Parliamentary Budget Office have done they have looked at all of this, and they have said that a discrete trial in the Treasury department for 12 months would save the government $3.8 million. I think we should be looking for any innovative way that we can save money but at the same time improve people’s lives and I think offer some road maps and some information for employers and the private sector.