Work is eating our lives

Long hours killing relationships

A report by Relationships Forum Australia has found a link between an increase in working hours and a general decline in wellbeing in relationships, especially in families but also in friendships and participation in the broader community.

The cold statistics – 22% of Australians work more than 50 hours a week, 30% regularly work weekends and 27% are in casual work – hide immense human tragedy, the report says.

Almost two thirds of those who work long hours say they interfere with their family and personal life.

The report highlights the growing body of international research which shows that emerging work patterns of longer hours, and work at nights and weekends are associated with strained family relationships and parenting marked by anger, inconsistency and ineffectiveness.

One Canadian study cited in the report found that toddlers were twice as likely to show signs of physical aggression if both parents worked atypical hours. Parents also were more prone to depression in these families.

The report says there has been a decline in ‘family relational health’ which manifests in rising separations and divorce rates and record numbers of single parents.

These problems are exacerbated by reduced job stability, more intense as well as longer hours of work and increased household debt.

The report offers suggestions to counter these trends, but these are almost diametrically opposed to the policies which underpin the Howard government’s workplace laws: penalty payments for long or atypical hours, limits on the hours of work and the empowerment of employees through collective bargaining.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that people in full-time non-managerial jobs who are on AWAs work 2.3 hours a week more than people on registered collective agreements.

The independent reference panel for the report included former National Party leader John Anderson, National MP Kay Hull and the ALP’s Lindsay Tanner and Bob Carr.

The full report is downloadable from

‘Family-friendly’ AWAs exposed

Three quarters of Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) do not include the family-friendly work provisions that the Howard government has consistently trumpeted as a key benefit of individual contracts under its new IR laws.

A Sydney Morning Herald analysis of 4,000 agreements leaked to it from the Office of the Employment Advocate – the federal government’s own so-called watchdog – shows that only a quarter had provisions allowing for family-friendly work arrangements.

The federal government and its agencies have consistently refused to release information about, or analyse the impact of, registered AWAs since an initial sample months after the passing of the laws clearly showed they were being used to roll back award pay and conditions.

This initial sample showed that 16% of AWAs had removed all of the award conditions the government said would be ‘protected by law’ under WorkChoices. The Howard government spent $55 million of taxpayers’ money to advertise this claim.

The latest figures obtained by the Herald show that the number of AWAs that exclude all protected award conditions such as overtime, shift loadings and public holidays had risen to an incredible 45%.