Opinion

Let’s introduce a four-hour work day

By Shepparton News

Trust and truth, and intent, are among the first casualties when it’s advocated you “put your weapons down” and then the proponent unleashes an all-guns-blazing rhetoric rooted firmly in ideology.

The promised “laser-like focus” on job creation and growth by Australia’s new National Cabinet, promised by our prime minister, will do little more than take us back to the pre-COVID-19 landscape where we were teetering the edge of the climate crisis abyss.

We elect and pay our politicians to give us safe and comforting constructs, but we don’t give them influence and power to take us straight to hell.

Yes, straight to hell, the inevitable destination of a national government parroting reheated neoliberal ideas nascent in the mid-20th Century, but maturing in the third decade of the 21st Century.

The COVID-19 crisis presented us with a pause, a moment when we could reappraise our behaviours, re-think what we do, how we do it and why we do what we do.

The science our governments have relied upon to guide us through the COVID-19 crisis is of the same scientific lineage as the advice warning us that catastrophe awaits if we return to what was.

Change has to begin somewhere, so why not here in Shepparton?

So join me on a journey into my parallel universe, a place where Scott Morrison’s laser-like focus on job creation and growth is as misplaced as the midday sun at midnight.

Energy, particularly fossil-fuel energy, and the behaviour of the rich, and only a handful of Goulburn Valley people are by world standards not rich, have left the physical and environmental qualities of our home in hitherto unseen disarray.

Rather than the laser-like focus to create jobs, we should be turning our attention to what is best for people, and within that, countering arguments about contentment and happiness coming from jobs, as that is code for exploitation of most and profit for just a few.

Although jobs, or at least work, have a certain social value and emotional importance, what we get paid for them, is, in my universe, largely unimportant as repeated research illustrates that at a certain point, and that’s at about the basic wage in this present economic environment, contentment or happiness tapers off, or more pointedly, actually ends.

And this is where it gets really interesting and most certainly controversial, for in my parallel universe it’s all about equality, social justice, fairness, decency, transparency, honesty and creating time-rich communities, anchored by a life which the acquisition of goods, property or money, is not the ideal or pinnacle.

Our world is limping toward catastrophe, or rather rushing everyday closer to a grimy conclusion with wealth being the accelerant, and so to slow things down we need to voluntarily step away from the till.

Yes, we all need to be poorer and so voluntarily put ourselves in a position from which we have less opportunity, and wealth, to put such inordinate destructive demands on the Earth’s resources.

Several years ago I submitted an idea to the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility for its annual conference and it was accepted for a poster, but not an actual presentation.

That idea was directly about making us all poorer and less able to draw on and use the Earth’s resources; it was about implementation of a four-hour work day.

Yes, that’s right. Four hours, and no overtime, unless you had a privately and individually owned business with four or fewer workers.

Exemptions would be for farmers, public institutions such as health, emergency services, transport, mail, law and order and local government.

Suddenly people would have time for their communities in which they lived, time for themselves, time for their neighbours, time for volunteering, time to walk and cycle about the town.

And because they only had to be at their workplace for four-hours each day, they would live nearby, probably within easy walking or cycling distance.

Yes, we would most certainly be economically poorer, but our towns, cities, and the communities that made up those places, would be richer, in every social sense, and the world a safer and more stable place.

Utopian-like? Of course, but had you suggested in the 1950s that what we have today would be normal, you would have been laughed off the stage.

As the COVID-19 crisis has illustrated, conclusively, what was always considered impossible is now clearly possible and the idea of working fewer hours has already been shown, including at some major companies, to be better in every way for everyone.