Healthy working time: evaluating Australia and its available industrial instruments

Public health Well-being Employment Work-life balance Families Australia

With a focus on the banking industry, this essay looks at trends in longer working hours in Australia and the impact this has on human health and workplace safety. 

Almost a quarter of workers globally work more than 48-hours per week, including 1.2 million Australians. Research has shown the adverse effects working long hours regularly can have on human health and workplace safety. The effects of long hours have also been shown to extend to families, communities and society more generally. Understandably maximum working hours and healthy working time are gaining increased attention globally.

Whilst incidences of long working hours decreased in the majority of countries over the last century, the past 30+ years have seen a reversal in many countries, including Australia. This can be partly explained by the major changes experienced across organisations globally over this time. Working time arrangements are now more complex as a result of advanced technologies, increased competitiveness and customer demands for round-the-clock services. People are increasingly required to move toward more flexible patterns of working hours to meet these new demands. The distinction between work and pleasure is, as a result, becoming increasing blurred.

Recent research by the International Labour Organisations (ILO) proposes that working time arrangements should promote health and safety. Achieving healthy working time requires appropriate regulatory and institutional frameworks. Laws and regulations at the national, sectoral and enterprise levels that establish limits on working hours are a necessary minimum condition for restraining excessively long hours of work. Working hours in countries where working time limits exist, have decreased and conversely they have increased where no such limits exist. Australia is one such country. A weak working time regulatory framework in Australia has contributed to the trend toward longer working hours for full-time employees. During a period where the nature of work has intensified in Australia, there has been little corresponding change in the regulatory framework. Looking internationally provides a different perspective. The strongest international reference point is the European Union (EU) through its Directive on Working Time. Since 2003, all EU Member States had the Working Time Directive incorporated into their national regulatory frameworks.

This essay aims to examine and assess the industrial instruments available in Australia for achieving healthy working time with a focus on the banking industry.

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