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Four-Day Week Trial on Cards to Ease Work-Care Juggle

Australia could be getting a national trial of the four-day workweek to see how it improves the lives of those juggling work and caring responsibilities.

A parliamentary committee has recommended a federal government-backed trial of the four-day workweek based on the “100:80:100” model, which is where workers keep their entire salary and maintain full productivity despite working 80 per cent of the week.

The pilot would be spread across industries and conducted in partnership with an Australian university.

The four-day week model has been successfully trialled at companies in Australia and overseas, with participants reporting improved productivity, work-life balance, health and wellbeing, and the normalisation of care as part of work.

The pilot has been recommended as one of several measures aimed at helping people strike a better balance between work and care responsibilities.

The Senate Select Committee on Work and Care also suggested a Fair Work Commission review of the 38-hour working week, including if stronger penalties for long hours are needed and installing a “right to disconnect” outside of work hours.

Under their proposal, employers would be restricted from contacting employees outside of work hours unless it’s an emergency.

Committee chair Barbara Pocock said Australia was an international outlier in terms of supporting workers with caring responsibilities.

“We have slipped too far behind,” the Greens senator said.

“And we are paying a price in labour supply, stressed workers and gender inequality.”

Commenting on the four-day workweek trial, Senator Pocock said greater flexibility could actually improve productivity.

Non-profit organisation Momentum Mental Health has been experimenting with the 100:80:100 model with positive results, with plans to extend the policy beyond the six-month trial period.

The organisation’s chief executive, Deborah Bailey, said the shortened work week had both improved productivity and the well-being of its staff.

She said workers with caring responsibilities were able to attend appointments and spend time with children or elderly parents without squeezing it in before work or over their lunch break.

“We have found that we have given people the capacity to take on those caring roles, and also their productivity has increased,” Ms Bailey told AAP.

She said the boost in productivity was possible by packing more into the standard workday, such as fewer and shorter meetings.

Other proposals in the comprehensive report, which has the support of Labor senators, include finding a pathway to bump Commonwealth-funded paid parental leave up to 52 weeks.

Primary carers are entitled to 18 weeks at the moment, but Labor committed to extending the leave entitlements to 26 weeks last year.

The committee also called for higher pay for child care, disability and aged care workers and a right to predictable, stable rosters.

“Work-life balance is a remote dream for too many,” Senator Pocock said.

“Especially those living the nightmare of last-minute shift changes which make finding care for loved ones or kids impossible.”

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