How Unreasonable Are Long Working Hours?

Melbourne Institute Working Paper No. 01/02

Date: February 2002


Mark Wooden
Joanne Loundes


This paper examines whether there has been a significant trend towards longer working hours in Australia, and whether working arrangements involving long hours are unreasonable. Recent years have seen growing concern with the number of hours many Australians are spending in paid employment. While average hours worked per week have remained relatively stable since the early 1980s, the incidence of both long and short workweeks has increased. Overall, the conclusion is that working long hours is on many criteria, far from unreasonable. It would appear that the majority of long hours workers prefer such arrangements. Attempts to interfere with such preferences through regulation will thus, in most instances, either lead to workers feeling worse off or fail to have any affect on worker behaviour. It is recognised that there are many instances where the hours being worked by individuals are having serious adverse impacts on health and family life and hence may sensibly be judged unreasonable. Nevertheless, it seems that such cases are best dealt with on a case by case basis and not through the imposition of across-the-board limits on hours, which may make far more people worse off than it makes better off.

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