This thesis examines the Four-Day Workweek (4DW) as a policy option for Australia. Like most advanced capitalist countries, Australia has experienced little reduction in average working hours in the postwar era despite decades of cumulative productivity gains and social surveys that report a significant number of Australians would like to work fewer hours. This thesis highlights some of the reasons for this apparent anomaly as part of its focus on the nature, purpose and extent of work.
The thesis draws on the diverse traditions of political economy, including Marxian, feminist, Keynesian and institutional perspectives, as well as labour history and organisation studies. In particular, the contributions of Gorz (1999) and Weeks (2011) to the literature on work futures inform the arguments developed in this thesis.
The body of the thesis is divided into three parts that focus, respectively, on the theoretical, historical and institutional levels of analysis. Part I canvasses the ‘utopian’ and ‘pragmatic’ nodes of argument in relation to change in the nature and extent of work. It highlights the obstacles to change within capitalism and also the centrality of politics in attempts to circumvent these barriers. The 4DW as a policy option for Australia is situated within this general framework. Part II focuses on the empirical evidence regarding the 4DW in the US in the 1970s and during the Great Recession. Part III centres on a case study of one Australian organisation that gives the option of a 4DW to its staff.
On the basis of the evidence presented in this thesis, it is argued that the 4DW could form part of a new politics of shorter hours and chosen time in Australia. It is further argued that this reform has a greater chance of lasting success if the 4DW is adopted as a goal of the trade union movement as part of an offensive agenda.