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    Essential Information on an Essential Issue

    Letter No.91

    1 December, 1998

    "Working Harder isn't Working". Canadian author Bruce O'Hara outlines his vision of a shorter work week and a two shift workplace

    rifkin2.gif - 11470 Bytes Reducing the formal working week should be on the top of the agenda for Western democracies facing a massive rise in unemployment over the next 25 years. This is the view of the Washington-based president of the Foundation on Economic Trends, Jeremy Rifkin, who, has been promoting the concept since his book The End Of Work was published in 1994.

    Rifkin says that there are more than a billion people unemployed or under-employed around the world, and predicts that these numbers will rise substantially, unless we are able to come to grips with "the tremendous technology revolution taking place..."

  • Rifkin points to similar developments at the beginning of the Industrial Age, when new technologies came on-line, and there was also a huge increase in productivity. Rifkin: "The choice became unemployment or leisure. Our parents chose leisure ... and demanded that they have a cut in the work week and an increase in pay. In the 20th century, we cut the working week from 60-hours to 40-hours in almost every country, and we also increased the pay and benefits to take advantage of the new labour-saving technologies..."

    "My question is this: What's wrong with us? Why isn't our generation demanding that the Information Age be held to the same standards that our parents held the Industrial Age to? "

    Rifkin believes that if it is true that the new technologies of our Age will be at least as productive as the Industrial technologies, then we should be considering a 30-hour work week in the next five years: "It would be a great benefit for working parents around the world, and could renew the family life of our country and our cultures ..."

    Source _ Jeremy Rifkin interview on "Global View" CNN 7 February 1997

  • Another leading voice in the call for a shorter working week is Canadian author and activist Bruce O'Hara. As a special feature in this issue of The Jobs Letter, we present an essential summary of O'Hara's campaign for "a big shift" in the way we organise work.

    The French are already a year down the track in establishing a 35-hour working week. The newspaper Le Monde reports that the new laws on maximum working hours are popular with the workforce. Industrial workers used to regard the punching of a card to "clock" in and out of work as an instrument of management oppression. But now were seeing it as a way of protecting their newly established rights to a shorter work week and more leisure.

  • Le Monde also reports that for many French managers, the new laws have become something of a nightmare. Their main fear: falling foul of "the work police" (the authorities who have been known to swoop on businesses and fine them if employees are working too long).

    Many of the managers consider that a time-based assessment of their enterprises is not just irrelevant, but demeaning. The law does allow for some exceptions to the 35-hr rule, but few companies want to risk breaking the law. One has resorted to sounding a bell at 6.45pm sharp to hound the last recalcitrant office workers from their hiding places and send them home. Another has taken to locking up its car park at 7pm, coaxing its staff to hit the road before the fatal hour arrives.

    Le Monde: "But despite much grumbling, there has been little concerted resistance to this socialist project which most of France believes will lead to the creation of thousands of new jobs..."

    Source _ Le Monde, as reported in The Week 17 October 1998 " The bell says: don't work late".

    In Canada, the debate over the shorter working week is much more advanced than here in NZ, especially with activists, such as Bruce O'Hara and Tom Walker (see TimeWork Web at, furthering the debate. The Quebec Confederation of National Trade Unions has published a number of studies to help local unions negotiate reductions in working time.

    The Confederation says that there is no one big way to reduce working time, such as adopting a 4-day week. There are dozens of changes that need to be considered, and these include: longer vacations, reductions in overtime, leave with or without pay for a number of reasons, progressive retirement, voluntary part-time work of limited duration, more public holidays, etc.

    Francois Aubry of the Confederation says that if the solutions are going to be effective in creating jobs, then they need to be adapted to the realities of each workplace. Aubry: "For example, one extra week of vacation in a service industry is not the same thing as one week extra vacation in a manufacturing plant operating 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. In the first example there would be minor or no job creation since workers on vacation are usually not replaced; whereas in manufacturing, they are."

    Source _ posting by Tom Walker 5 June 1998 to ced-net internet conference. See also the Quebec Confederation of National Trade Union site at

    Back here in NZ, the Manukau Work Trust has developed a proposal for work-sharing within the activities of the Manukau City Council. Alan Johnson, a Work Trust trustee who is also a Manukau City Councillor, has asked the Council to create a "Workshare" pilot project.

    Under his scheme, a share of the Council's more labour-intensive work contracts (street tree planting, footpath and track construction and maintenance, beach clean-ups etc) would be offered to community organisations on a tender basis. These organisations would agree to employ only local long-term unemployed people, and employ them on a part-time basis. The people employed would be paid award wages and conditions, but will also remain on the unemployment benefit/community wage paid by WINZ.

  • Alan Johnson sees his proposal as an alternative to the WINZ work-for-the-dole schemes. He accepts that his proposal involves the explicit displacement of full-time workers working for the Council contractor and that the number of people likely to be on the unemployment benefit/community wage will increase. But he believes the scheme will mean a better redistribution of locally-sourced wages, through the sharing of the work available.

    Johnson: "Much of the unemployment being experienced in the Manukau community is a deliberate outcome of government's monetary and tariff policies, and the government should be expected to pay the financial costs of these policies. It may also be argued that wages sourced from local tax bases should be available to be used as widely as possible to offset the social costs of government's unemployment policies. These offsetting benefits include increased participation by local unemployed people in the real (paid) labour market and with this, increased household incomes..."

    Source _ "Sharing Work in Manukau" a paper by the Manukau Work Trust, by Alan Johnson. Johnson is a trustee of the Manukau Work Trust, a people's Centre Board members and Manukau City Councillor.

    While European countries like France and Italy are forging ahead with a shorter working week, the US economy is going in exactly the opposite direction. It seems that the Americans are working longer hours now than they have in a generation.

    According to US economist Barry Bluestone, the average US couple's workweek is a day-and-a-half longer now than in the 1960s. While women going from part- to full-time work accounts for much of the increase, men's hours are increasing too.

  • Bluestone says that while all this may be wreaking havoc with people's home life, it may be explaining why the US economy is looking as though it is performing so well. Bluestone, together with Stephen Rose of the Jerome Levy Economics Institute recently wrote "The Unmeasured Labor Force: The Growth in Work Hours", in which they argue that the longer hours Americans are putting in is definitely impacting on the economic growth rate.

    They calculate that of the 5.4% growth during the first quarter of this year, 1.4% came from increased productivity. The other 4% were from increased hours of work. Bluestone remarks: "We did not get 4% more people in the labor force. There were some retirees and `discouraged' workers returning to work ... But mostly, I suspect, a large part of it was this continuing trend towards working more hours..."

    Bluestone also says that this is a very important change in what he calls the "labour supply regime". As the economy slows, instead of layoffs, what he predicts we may see is a cutback in some of the extra hours worked.

  • There's more going on here than people sacrificing family time "in order to indulge in a cornucopia of consumption." For many, according to Bluestone, it's the only way to make ends meet: "These families are trapped in an Alice in Wonderland world, running faster and faster just to stay in the same place."

    And it seems that many families don't have much to show for the extra time they're working. For the family headed by a high school graduate or worker who has been to college, the added hours amount to 17.4% more time at work. But their real earnings have increased less than 4%.

    Bluestone and Rose write that there seems to be a "rule of thumb" that the amount of time someone spent in school reflects the amount of their time now spent at work. The college graduates are earning those bigger bucks at a cost they're putting in the longest hours of all. Their report shows that more than 80%of the long-run increase in average weekly hours over the past 20 years can be associated with the increased education level of the workforce.

    Source Media General News Service, 17 August 1998 "Americans Working Longer"

    winzlog.jpg - 5684 Bytes The new Work and Income NZ Department has instructed its 4,500 staff to inform their managers of their political affiliations and activities. This is a departure from traditional state service practice.

    The code says: "If intending to participate, or already participating in a political organisation, then an employee is to first inform and discuss this with their manager to ensure that there are no conflicts between their responsibilities and duties as an employee of the department and their responsibilities and duties to another organisation ..."

  • Labour's Steve Maharey desribes the code's instruction as "outrageous", and has asked the Human Rights Commissioner to investigate. He says the code is right to ask staff for political neutrality in the execution of their duties, but "it is wrong to pry into their political beliefs and oblige them to discuss their political viewpoints with their bosses..."

    Maharey: "Staff at WINZ, just like anyone in a free and open society, have a right to belong to a political organisation of their choice. For a government organisation to suggest otherwise is an unprecedented and dangerous step towards thought control..."

  • Nick Venter of The Dominion reports that the standard code of conduct issued by the State Services Commission instructs state servants to ensure that their participation in politics does not affect public confidence in the impartiality of advice given. It does not require state servants to inform their employers of their political links unless they plan to stand for public office.
    Source _ The Dominion 25 November 1998 "Tell us your politics, staff told" by Nick Venter

    Statistics That Matter: The BAY OF PLENTY electorate contains 20,457 households, of which 48% have household incomes below $30,000 per year before tax. That 48% is 10% above the rate for the country as a whole. There are 29,958 adults aged 20-59 in the Bay of Plenty electorate, of whom 56% are in paid, full-time work. Another 12% are in part-time work. Unemployment in the electorate is 6% above the national average.

    Localities in the Bay of Plenty electorate which have high levels of deprivation are Te Teko, Orini, Maketu Community, Kairua and Whakatane West. The Bay of Plenty electorate ranks 14th among electorates for poverty. (Electorate statistics compiled by Judy Reinken, and based on 1996 Census).

    Source _ Judy Reinken, statistics based on 1996 Census of Population and Dwellings

    The Prisons Service has launched a campaign to encourage privately-owned companies to join an Inmate Employment Programme. The Service has been running large advertisements in national newspapers in order to entice businesses into the scheme.

    The Service is quoting international experience that shows that inmates who are gainfully employed in prison being less likely to re-offend after release. Of the 5,600 inmates in our prisons, 3,300 already work in prison kitchens, libraries, maintaining prison facilities, producing timber and vegetables and light manufacturing.

    The Prisons Service: "This leaves over 2,000 inmates who are ready to start work immediately ... they want to learn the skills and good work habits that employment in prison will give them." The Service also hopes to recoup some of the approx. $50,000 per year that it costs taxpayers to keep each inmate in prison.

  • Corrections Minister Nick Smith says that a nationwide survey last month found that 86% of NZ'ers supported inmates working in prison, while 91% of a recent survey of inmates also welcomed the move. He says that businesses will be carefully screened by a committee which will include trade union representatives.

    Corrections Department spokesman Mike Curran told National Radio last week that society has to weigh up the benefits of having inmates working, and the benefits to the inmates themselves, against "the possibility of some job losses in society..."

  • Dr Smith says that the government will be avoiding running its own prison-based businesses, because it has had its fingers badly burnt in the past. He quoted the example of the prison-run shoe factory at Kaitoke Prison in Wanganui which he says has lost $440,000.

    But there are continuing fears that the prison-subsidised workers will be competing unfairly in the marketplace. Auckland's Paremoremo prison cultivates about 150 tonnes of strawberries for export. And the president of the Berryfruit Growers federation, John Garelja, says that limits need to be put on prison involvement in this field. He says the Paremoremo business has the potential to dominate the market if it steps up its operations.

    Forestry contractors in the Hawkes Bay also claim they have missed out on work because of prison tenders. And the Dairy Workers' Union claims that a new pallet factory at Waikeria Prison will cost about 50 ordinary jobs and destabilise the industry.

  • Robert Reid of the Trade Union Federation, says that goods produced by prison workers and sold overseas is a case of double-standards by the government. He quotes the example of 1000 cases of apples grown at the Hawkes Bay prison and later exported, and hand-picked courgettes being sold to Watties who also exported them.

    Reid says the NZ Customs Act bans the import of goods manufactured wholly or in part by prison labour or within or in connection with any prison, jail, or penitentiary. Reid: "In 1990, a shipment of Skoda cars had been seized on the grounds they were breaching this Act, yet here we are exporting our own goods produced by prisoners..."

    Source _ advertisements from The Public Prisons Service, 24 November 1998 The Dominion, and other national papers; The Daily News 20 November 1998 "Prison shoe firm lost $44,000 by Sue Eden NZPA"; New Zealand Herald 20 November 1998 "Private sector fears jail job expansion" by Darrel Mager; The Daily News 21 November 1998 "Prison goods being exported despite trade ban, say unions" by NZPA

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