Bargaining for a Four-day Future


Employee and union expectations around flexibility in working hours and life-style choice are being expressed loud and clear in high-profile bargaining cases, and Australian employers are expected to re-assess their ways of operating to meet these flexibility demands.

In the last half year alone Qantas was forced to redesign it’s entire rostering arrangements for Aircraft Engineers to a 4 days on, 5 days off arrangement to “provide lifestyle benefits sought by ALAEA members” who leveraged their power in a 1 minute nation-wide stoppage to achieve this.

We have also seen Apple facing claims to establish a right for employees to have full-time hours allocated across a four day week.

At Commonwealth Bank, the FSU is currently calling on workers to endorse an “ambitious” log of claims that includes trialling a 30-hour working week after a survey highlighted concerns under staffing and workloads.

Non for profits are also getting in on the action with the new Oxfam Australia Agreement introducing a 4 day week as a trial. Permanent full time employees working 35 hours per week can elect to work 30 hours over 4 days without any loss of pay.

It is anticipated that the 4 day work week will increasingly be pushed by employees and unions, with research and policy reform recommendations clearly supporting this direction. In March 2023, the world’s biggest trial on a four-day week coming to an end. Conducted in the UK across 61 companies and 2,900 employees, the results are astounding: more than 90% of participating businesses have opted to continue with the four-day week, with 18 adopting it permanently.

Whilst critics say the four day week is impractical in certain sectors, the reason the majority of employers are adopting it is because they saw improvements in productivity, staff retention and well-being. This included seeing revenue broadly maintained, 65% reduction in the number of sick days, and 71% of employees reporting lower levels of burnout.

Closer to home, the Select Senate Committee on Work and Care Final Report March 2023 states the old model that rewards employees for working longer hours or coming into the office more, continues to entrench gender and social inequality. The report makes sweeping recommendations for reform, including trialling a 4 day work week in diverse sectors and geographical locations and requesting the Fair Work Commission review the 38 hour working week.

Employers going into bargaining need to expect that employees and unions will capitalise on the momentum which is building in this space. Strategic, proactive and informed approaches in bargaining will be imperative, including being open to seriously consider, model or trial alternative ways of operating. Whilst this, as with any significant change, presents a challenge, the research shows it may also be an opportunity to uncover win-win productivity solutions which can give employers powerful bargaining leverage.

To find out more about the current bargaining trends in Australia, including wage claims, union agendas and current tactics, we invite you to join us on 7-8 June for Adelhelm’s intensive workshop for experienced negotiators who wish to take their bargaining skills to the next level Advanced Bargaining: Strategic Preparation and Tactics