Parish on Quiggin on Gittins

John Quiggin has an excellent post on Ross Gittins’ latest column about a new ABS study on Australian working hours. Gittins effectively suggests that the union-inspired concern about Australians working longer and longer hours has been exaggerated.

JQ, on the other hand, suggests that Gittins’ benevolent spin on the surprisingly modest increase in working hours, as measured by ABS, is a bit cute given that it was largely deliberately engineered, and has had a number of arguably adverse effects for employees in addition to an increase in working hours:

It’s important to observe that the rise in fulltime working hours was a reversal of a trend that had continued for more than a century. It was accompanied by a substantial increase in job stress and job insecurity, and these things were needed to induce workers to put in longer hours. Gittins makes the point that a lot of unpaid overtime was “compensated” by salary packages, but the shift towards such packages in the 1980s was precisely one of the devices used to extract more work effort, along with the conversion of employees into supposedly self-employed “contractors”.

JQ also makes the point that the ABS data suggest that many people “feel that they’ve been pressured into working excessive hours for no extra compensation“.

Both Gittins and JQ make some excellent points. The only additional comment I’d make is that at least part of the increase in working hours (and the engineered insecurity that brought it about) was a result of Australians having awarded themselves, over the decades leading up to the 1980s, working hours and conditions that were uncompetitive with major trading partners. Some degree of corrective action was necessary if we were to avoid continuing a slide down the slippery slope towards becoming the poor white trash of Asia. We’ve arguably now gone a bit far in the other direction, although Gittins’ article rather suggests that a correction is already underway. I suspect that phenomena like casualisation and “outsourcing” will soon also go the same way as the babyboomer generation progressively retires and Australia moves from a situation of chronic labour oversupply to equally chronic undersupply.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Scott Wickstein
2021 years ago

Yeah well, work is pressuring me to become a permanent employee just when I’d got used to being casual.

I did a deal and said, look give me till July to be casual then I’ll go permanent.

I think they were worried that I’d leave for Holden’s as they just started their third shift, with 1,000 new jobs being created.

mark
2021 years ago

I love the word “effectively”; is Gittins making an effective argument, or is this in effect what he’s saying? Heh.

There’s got to be some way to turn that sort of thing to my advantage… hmmm…

Tiu Fu Fong
Tiu Fu Fong
2021 years ago

This Tiu Fu worked 170 hours in the first two weeks of June.

I dream of a 45 hour week.

Factory
Factory
2021 years ago

Poor white trash of Asia?

PPPpC
Japan: 28,000
Australia: 27,000
Singapore: 24,700
New Zealand: 19,500
South Korea: 19,400
Taiwan: 17,200
Thailand: 6,600
Indonesia: 3,000

We have a very long way to fall until we get that mantle. It should also me noted that France, Germany and Sweden have PPPpCs in the mid twenty thousand range, and work somewhat less than Australians.

Patrick
2021 years ago

Great table Factory. Do you have a source? And a figure for China?

woodsy
woodsy
2021 years ago

Factory’s figures are fine but s/he should be aware that stats like that can be interpreted differently depending on the arguement being made. For instance, it is estimated that there are more than 15 million Indonesians with incomes in excess of the Australian average. That’s a bigger aggregate than Australian income ! I suspect that you could do similar exercises for China and India. I.e., averages are misleading, particularly when one considers the disparity in populations.

Ron Mead
Ron Mead
2021 years ago

You’re making a very interesting point, Wayne. There is a huge divergence between urban and rural incomes in these countries and they are nowhere near as urbanised as developing countries. So in third world countries we tend to underestimate the incomes of the urbanised population, submerged as they are in averages by income levels of the subsistence-type rural economy.

By the way, I assume that PPPpC stands for purchasing price parity per whatever C is, as distinct from the exchange rate comparison. But please Factory, abbreviations like that are all right for your in-group, but these comments boxes tend to be populated by some representatives of the under-educated hoi-polloi like myself. We need all the help we can get!

Ron Mead
Ron Mead
2021 years ago

One of the major points that comes across to me in Gittins’ article is that a very high proportion of the “overworked” are self-employed. In some cases they are quasi-employees like transport drivers, but anecdotally it’s fairly clear that small business proprietors work devilishly hard.

Presumably they are doing it on a voluntary basis, not so much because of exploitation by wicked employers.

Gittins (in other articles) and Hamilton will maintain they are misguided because “money doesn’t bring happiness”. Of course the left (and Gittins often writes from a leftist perspective) would have us believe that society should be ordered (by them of course) to override our misguidedness and force the overworkers to cool it if they are self-employed or their if employees, that their employers be coerced to stop this “exploitation”.

cs
cs
2021 years ago

Ron,

There is another, less cheery, explanation for the overworked self-employed. Because the self-employed suffer the insecurity of, well, the self-employed, they always accept too much work than they can possibly do. It’s a form of insurance, in case the flow of work dries up, or some of their jobs fall over.

I speak from past experience which, upon talking to multitudes of other self-employed, I discovered was a practice that was the exactly same for everybody in the same circumstances, with no exceptions.

The problem with this, apart from the way it can eat up the self-employed themselves, is that, at the margins, some of their customers are always getting burned … which leads to a constant low-level of customer complaints … which also eats up the self-employed, which eats up time, which leads to more customers getting burned … which, in turn and in the big scheme of things, leads to a whole lotta social costs.

In sum, I’m absolutely positive that most self-employed would never work so hard if they really felt they could have their druthers …

… and now you know why your tradesmen never turn up when they say they will.