My column in today’s Fin (subscription required) is about work and work intensity. The takeaway
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Average working hours for full-time employees increased from 42 to 45 hours a week between 1982 and the mid-1990s, levelled out, and have declined slightly over the past two years. It is reasonable to assume that work intensity has followed a broadly similar pattern.
The productivity statistics reflect the easing-off in effort. The best single measure is multifactor productivity, which takes account of capital inputs and working hours, but not of changes in work intensity. After two decades of fairly poor performance, ABS estimates of showed a strong increase in multifactor productivity from the end of the recession in 1992 to the late 1990s, when work hours and work intensity reached their peak.
In the last few years, however, as work intensity has eased off, so has (measured) productivity growth. The figures have bounced about, but the average rate of multifactor productivity growth since 1998-99 has been below 1 per cent.
Can the Howard government claim, then, to have delivered a relaxed and comfortable Australia? Certainly it could not do so on the basis of its first term in office. The government ditched its pre-election commitments as Înon-coreâ and used the Black Hole and the Commission of Audit to justify a new round of reforms and Budget cuts. But the pace of reform has eased significantly since then.
Many commentators have criticised the slowing pace of reform, arguing that it has contributed to slower productivity growth. They may be right, but a slowing pace of reform, along with worker resistance to the erosion of leisure time, has also contributed to more Îrelaxation and comfortâ.