Workin' 9-to-4

Time is a priceless commodity these days, as people try to pack more into each day while preserving "quality time" for their families. The sense of feeling harried is real. The increase in work hours for Americans over the last 25 years amounts to an extra month of work each year, according to Juliet Schor, author of The Overworked American. One in five Canadians works at least 50 hours a week.

Today's economic climate, with its lack of commitment to full employment, merely deepens a mindset that tells us to earn all we can today, for tomorrow we may be out of a job. Many people simply have no choice in the matter. The recent National Study of the Changing Workplace found that nearly two-thirds of workers would like to reduce their time on the job by an average of 11 hours a week.

On the flip side, at least 1.5 million Canadians, 8.4 percent of the workforce, are joblessùfar more if the hidden unemployed are counted. In effect, our society is polarizing into two groups, the overworked and the unemployed.

Buoyed by the success of shorter-work-hour efforts in Europe, an embryonic movement is insisting that it's time to share the available work more fairly. A 32- or 35-hour work week is a common demand, along with curbs on overtime, more use of sabbaticals, and family-friendly personnel policies. Many support shorter work hours as a way to create jobs. Others are excited by the vision of a radically different kind of life, marked by "graceful simplicity," freed from the work-buy-consume treadmill, with more time for families and creativity.

In Canada, some unions and labor leaders, such as Canadian Auto Workers leader Buzz Hargrove, are outspoken advocates of a shorter work week. A thorny issue, however, involves whether shorter hours should involve no loss

in pay, as some trade unionists argue, or entail a corresponding reduction in pay, except for low-paid workers.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1998
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