by Phil Duncan
A Newshub story yesterday, written by Tony Wright, highlights the longer hours workers in New Zealand have to put in to make ends meet. It takes recent OECD data to build stats on hours worked by full-time employees in NZ and countries that are comparable, although the writer couldn’t find figures for the United States and Canada. Nevertheless, it is clear that workers in this country are working more hours than workers in Britain, western Europe and Australia.
While Tony Wright has done a good job, it should be noted that, if anything, the stats he has compiled, downplay the actual number of hours put in, on average, by NZ workers. What doesn’t show up here is that many full-time workers also have part-time jobs and many part-time workers have several part-time jobs. And the stats often won’t show up the full hours worked in the ‘black economy’ as people are reluctant to fill out these hours for the census and the Household Labour Force survey.
Household Labour Force Surveys and censuses do, however, show large numbers of workers here putting in over 50 hours a week. According to the 2013 census, 20% of employed people were working more than 50 hours a week (although this was ‘officially’ down from 25% in 2001).
The latest (2013) census declares cheerily, “The proportion of employed people working 50 hours or more per week dropped to 20 percent in 2013, according to census results released by Statistics New Zealand today. This is down from 23 percent in 2006, and 25 percent in 2001.” This neatly sidesteps, however, the fact that the percentage working 40-49 hours has actually risen for workers in the 20-50 age group (the group most likely to have children and/or other dependents).
Hours worked overall rose steeply in the 1990s, a product of the defeat of the working class at the hands of the fourth Labour government (1984-1990) and then in the first term of the fourth National government (1990-1993), a defeat eventually codified in the Employment Contracts Act of 1991 and that year’s ‘Mother of all Budgets’.
Hours and the ‘rock star’ economy
Around the middle of the first decade of the 2000s, official hours worked fell somewhat but then, starting in 2010, they began to rise again.
This coincides with the impact of the global financial crisis and the fact that hours worked have continued to rise indicates the shallowness of the notion promoted by Key that NZ has a ‘rock star’ economy, unless the rock star he is referring to is some clapped-out, drug-besotten, senile old rocker, kept together only by continuous injections of publicly-funded booster drugs.
Why longer hours?
Why people in this country work relatively long hours can be understood for two key, inter-related reasons. One is (more…)