“Many employees work part-time and that is of course fine, but the idea of employees effectively working part-time for a full-time wage has no merit.”
While some unions and academics might argue Australia should adopt laws and arrangements in various European countries, Mr Willox said “the reality is that most European countries have higher rates of unemployment and lower rates of economic growth than Australia”.
Some international companies are spruiking the benefits of less working hours with Microsoft trialling a four-day week in Japan last year. It said it had boosted sales by 40 per cent compared to the same month the previous year.
New Zealand firm Perpetual Guardian, which manages trusts, wills and estates, now pays employees for five days while letting them work for four. It found the change improved productivity among its 240 employees, while giving them more family time and recreation.
Two Australian companies including design studio Icelab in Canberra also allow staff to work a four-day week, paid on a pro-rata basis. Keith Pitt, Perth-based founder and chief technology officer at software designer Buildkite, said two of his 17 staff work four days.
“It’s important we are not just asking people to work another day for free,” he said.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions and workplace experts have also warned of the potential downsides to the four-day week, including the tendency for some employers to expect five days of work from four.
Professor of gender and employment relations at the University of Sydney Marian Baird has interviewed employers who say women working four days a week are very productive and focused.
But many who have returned to work after taking maternity leave have learned the trade off for getting more flexibility can mean doing more hours of unpaid work at home.
ACTU assistant secretary Scott Connolly said employers often call people on a four-day week to work on their day off for no pay.
“While work-life balance is a significant issue in the community, less paid work is not the answer,” he said.
Economist and director of the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work Jim Stanford said while a four-day week or shorter day might boost productivity, he doubted whether it would be enough to pay for itself in the eyes of employers.
“The employer will get some benefits in terms of increased productivity, morale and retention. But I don’t think many will think that is a profit-enhancing shift,” he said.
Anna Patty is Workplace Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald. She is a former Education Editor, State Political Reporter and Health Reporter.