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Workloads taking big family toll

By Mike Steketee | March 06, 2007

Article from:  The Australian

LONG working hours combined with large amounts of work at night and weekends are taking a large toll in family breakdowns and ill health among parents and children.

Commuters / Supplied

Daily grind ... long working hours combined with large amounts of night and weekend work are hurting the health of Australian families / File

"The past three decades of prosperity experienced by Australia have come at an unexpected price," Paul Shepanski, co-author of a report to be released today by Relationships Forum Australia, said.

The report has found Australia is now the only high-income country that combines long average working hours, a high incidence of irregular hours and a large amount of casual work.

The 22 per cent of Australians working more than 50 hours a week is second only to Japan among high-income countries. The 30 per cent regularly working weekends is second only to Italy, while the 27 per cent in casual work is the second highest after Spain.

It points to emerging international research showing that these work patterns are associated with strained family relationships and parenting marked by anger, inconsistency and ineffectiveness.

A Canadian study found that toddlers were twice as likely to show signs of physical aggression if both parents worked atypical hours. As well, instances of parents suffering from depression were higher in these families.

The decline in what the report calls family relational health has seen rising separations and divorce rates and record numbers of single parents. The problems are exacerbated by reduced job stability, working harder as well as longer and increased household debt.

The report does not blame the Howard Government's Work Choices legislation, saying the trend had been under way for 30 years. However, some of the policies it says should be examined are similar to those advocated by Labor.

The options canvassed include premium payments for long or atypical hours, limits on the hours of work or days per week that can be demanded by employers and the right to a shared day off at the weekend.

Provisions for parents should be examined, such as the right of parents with children under 18 to request flexible work. Ways of empowering employees, such as through collective bargaining, also should be looked at.

The independent reference panel for the report included former deputy prime minister John Anderson and Nationals whip Kay Hull, as well as Opposition finance spokesman Lindsay Tanner and former NSW premier Bob Carr.

Relationships Forum Australia is an offshoot of the Relationships Foundation in Britain, which has influenced the debate by highlighting the social disintegration that has accompanied increased prosperity.

The report points to increasing dissatisfaction in Australia with the trend in working patterns. Almost two-thirds of those working long hours consider that these interfere with their family and personal life.

The proportion of employees who generally worked on weekdays between 7pm and 7am grew from 56 per cent in 1986 to 64 per cent in 2000. Two million Australians worked on Sundays and on average they did so for almost a full day.

These trends coincided with the proportion of families with children in which both parents worked rising from 42 per cent to 60 per cent over the past 25 years.

Your Comments:

3 Comment(s)

Michael Pala of Dunstable, United Kingdom 6:31pm March 07, 2007

This phenomenon has also been taking place in the UK. Over here, we have high taxes and property is expensive. People don't work long hours to buy luxury goods, they do it to pay overinflated mortgages and high living costs.

Sheridan of the hill 5:15pm March 07, 2007

If you are whinging because you can't afford things like a new TV now how about you learn to love lay-by?? I don't do it often because I can't afford to but when I want something bad enough I pay it off.. the consumer driven now population of Australia have obviously not heard of this..

Kaz of Canberra 9:25am March 07, 2007

Reading a lot of these articles makes me think that the majority of people are single. The comments are arrogant and lack understanding. I come to this conclusion because, the I am good I don't have to work these hours comes through and they seem to think that everyone else who works long hours only do it to by Plasma TV etc. I hate to tell you this but some people are trying to buy there home and just pay school fees.

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