Transcript

Work Balance with Donatella Cavagnoli

12 June 2008

cavagnoliDonatella Cavagnoli
Email: d.cavagnoli@latrobe.edu.au

You can also listen to the interview [MP3 10.6 MB].

Matt:

This is the La Trobe University podcast, I am Matt Smith, good morning, good afternoon, good evening, it all depends on where you're standing! And if the studio audience could give a very big warm round of applause to our guest today, it's Donatella Cavagnoli! Thankyou for coming in today.

Donatella:

Thanks for inviting me.

Matt:

You're here to talk to me today about the balance between workstyle and lifestyle.

Donatella:

Yes, just to talk a little bit about the hours that we spend at work and the hours that we spend at home, which is not balanced, yes.

Matt:

The recent ABS data that has come out has shown that we're working fewer hours than we used to say about twenty years ago, is it twenty years ago generally?

Donatella:

Yes, we are going back to the eighties basically where the average working hour week was forty hours. For example now it is acceptable to be more than forty, up to forty-eight in terms of overtime.

Matt:

So our standard working week has gotten a lot longer, but the amount that we're keeping track of officially has gone down, is that what you're saying? That the standard working week that we're working now isn't counting what we're working as overtime.

Donatella:

Basically what's happening now is that on average in the aggregate where there are workers that work longer than forty hours a week, up to forty-eight, fifty, and workers that work the average working week. Yes, working hours have increased, but because there is an increase in the wage rate and we are also wanting to buy more market goods, so for that reason hours of work increase even though we are earning more.

Matt:

Is it also because a lot more these days we are working towards the tasks that need to be done in our job, and not to the clock?

Donatella:

Yes, okay, there's a problem there, with the fact that instead of counting the hours of work per day especially in high paid jobs, high skilled jobs, they are looking at the number of tasks that need to be done by a due date, within a deadline, which can be done in a job during the day or at home. So this is a different issue but basically one of the reasons why we are working longer is because there is no clock time anymore that measure our work.

Matt:

Well it's a lot easier to work away from work now with the way that technology's kept up.

Donatella:

Definitely, you've got the laptop from the company and other stuff from the company so you can take it home and finish it at home. The working hours that the ABS are looking at, it's on the job. So the reason why I've written the article is they're not looking at the two separate groups of workers, the high skilled and the low skilled workers, or if you like the white collar and the blue collar. There is a third of workers that are high skilled and earn high wages and they are the ones that work forty-eight, fifty, sixty hours a week. Compared to the other full time workers which are only forty, forty-two hours a week. So on average we say that it's forty-four, forty-three hours a week when in reality you have these high wage earners working up to sixty hours a week and low wage earners, still full time, working up to forty-four hours a week. I mean the average is still above the forty hours a week that we had in the eighties but there is no explanation to why these high skilled workers earning more money and are assumed to wanting more leisure are not taking leisure time, are not choosing leisure over work and that's the problem. Because they are the ones that set the standards of work, the hours of work, the performance that everything is related and measured up to their standards, so it is accepted. And that's the reason why we should worry about it, because the economic theory can not explain why, or the reasons why they choose work over leisure has to be found somewhere else, in terms of addiction to work, satisfaction from work, or even they can also be stuck into a routine of work and spending consumption, it could be very difficult for them to get out of it.

Matt:

Is there a skewing in the data at all? Is it possible they're asking the wrong group of people? People prone to working longer hours? How is the ABS data gathered, do you know?

Donatella:

When they are looking at full time workers, yeah they actually divide full time workers between high skill and low skill workers and that gives a difference. But what I think we need to look at are the motivations of why the high skill and the low skill choose different hours of work. So behind them is also the type of contract that is offered to them, because we are talking about full time work but we don't know what is permanent and what is casual. Cause there are different benefits attached to a permanent position, or that goes with a permanent position and others with casual position. You can still be a full time worker but being a casual you have much lower benefits than a permanent. So the ABS is only giving you the general aggregate, and then they're looking at other groups of workers but it's up to the analyst, it's up to the economist to look into it and try and infer information from the average they're providing. If the government, if newspapers, if the media ask for what is the general average working week, they are looking at full time workers. All the groups together, whether they're casual, permanent, high skilled, low skilled and they give the average. It's all together. But then they provide other statistics, but the consultant or the economist needs to look into it. And they're going to look into it if the assumption is that the more we want to spend in market goods and services the more we need to work.

Matt:

Well that's a problem that we're having now. The Australian economy is changing quite a lot and it's very different from what it was twenty years ago, but it's even different to what it was five years ago. So consumer spending has gone up dramatically since then, housing prices are terrible at the moment, most people have a problem with that. There's fuel problems, everything that people want to throw at you. So…

Donatella:

I was looking at… this was very interesting for me. I was looking at the objectives or the most important issues that had to be discussed at the summit 2020 in Canberra and from the entire population in Australia obviously inflation was really really important, the environment sustainability and all of that, but there was one percent of the population which really shocked me, interested in industrial relations policies and working conditions. Which to me…

Matt:

You'd think there'd be more interested in that?

Donatella:

Yes, definitely, because it's according to the wage rate and the hours of work that families decide how much to buy, what to buy, and it is in terms of how much leisure time you've got that you decide to spend in time saving goods or time saving services. So the less time you've got in leisure the more you want to buy in child care services or fast cars or entertainment goods that increase your satisfaction in a very short time because you don't have much time in leisure. Yeah, this general belief that inflation and prices are detached from what we actually do at work, what are the choices of work and leisure it really strikes me. The fact that there isn't a mandatory law in Australia in terms of the maximum amount of time that you should spend at work.

Matt:

No, there isn't a mandatory law.

Donatella:

Basically there isn't an enforcement, or there's a lack of enforcement on the parties, meaning workers and employers, to make sure that you don't go over the limit and if you do that you get penalty rates. So it's not happening here in Australia apart from industries where we have unions, then yes the penalty rates are actually in the contracts and they have to be enforced, and the industrial relations commission was or had a role in determining and arbitrating that. Nowadays with the fact that we don't have a mandatory role anyway the fact that we've got more individual contracts where unions are not included and the conditions fall back to minimum standards, reasonable standards that are based on the federal awards. Basically they don't have... it's all based on what is reasonable according to the parties. So what is reasonable? Is it forty hours a week? Forty-five? Forty-eight if we give you the laptop? Sixty if we give you the car of the company? I don't know, what is reasonable?

Matt:

If they did try and enforce something like that, do you think it would work at all? If they tried to limit it to a thirty-five hour week?

Donatella:

There has to be an enforcement because in the UK for example workers can opt out of long working hours, so in the contract they can decide yes, I want do overtime, no I don't want to. The problem is that they might opt out but in the UK the overtime problem is bigger than here in Australia, or as big as, even though workers can opt out. So there is a mandatory law there, but there is no enforcement law. Because workers working hours are increasing.

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