Evenings, nights and weekends: working unsocial hours and penalty rates

Quality of work life Employment Labour force Work-life balance Overtime Australia South Australia
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Technological, economic and demographic changes have contributed to what we now accept as a 24/7 economy and the ‘standard model’ of working nine to five Monday to Friday, is generally no longer considered standard (Presser, 2003). For example, a shift from a manufacturing-based economy to a service-based economy has resulted in changes in the way people work. In addition, advances in technology allow for greater connectivity to work and greater flexibility, such that the workplace may no longer be a discrete physical location. There are, arguably, associated benefits for employers in terms of productivity and efficiency, and employees in terms of flexibility in when they choose to work. Regardless, the average number of hours worked each week by employees has been decreasing, with OECD (2014) figures showing a decrease internationally by 3.55% and in the decade 2004 (39.5 hours) to 2013 (35.3 hours). There was a reflected trend in Australia, with a 2.43% reduction from an average 37.2 hours per week in 2004 to 36.3 hours in 2013. However, as Charlesworth and Heron (2012) highlight, while there has been an overall decrease in hours worked, the mix has changed. There has been a rapid growth in non-standard work, both part-time and casual, with relatively fewer employees working full-time. Changes in labour market regulation have resulted in a greater focus on greater labour market flexibility for employers and increased productivity and efficiency.

So it appears that there are many benefits associated with greater flexibility in working hours. It can be good for the economy by increasing opportunities for participation in the workforce, and boosting productivity and competition. It can, for example, provide an income for students who might not be able to work Monday to Friday because of their study commitments. It can be helpful for parents in balancing child care and work. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS; 2013) figures show that around 40% of Australian workers have some form of non-traditional pattern of working hours, whether it’s in the evenings or at night, or on the weekend, and often in combination with Monday to Friday work. At first glance, it might appear that greater flexibility in working hours allows greater flexibility in balancing work and life. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

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