Workers on major infrastructure projects across Australia have expressed strong support for a five-day working week.

Published by RMIT in conjunction with the Construction Industry Culture Taskforce (CICT), the Culture in Construction Pilot Projects: Interim Report has tracked the outcomes of five major infrastructure projects which are employing a range of measures that are designed to improve the culture and working environment within the nation’s infrastructure construction industry.

A key finding of the report was that there was support for a five-day working week (with an average of 50 hours per week).

Of the 148 workers who had been surveyed across three of the sites at the time of the interim report preparation, 84 percent of salaried workers and 61 percent of hourly workers indicated a preference for a five-day working week when presented against a range of other options (see chart).

The latest report is part of efforts from the CICT to develop a Culture Standard across the infrastructure construction industry.

The CICT consists of the New South Wales and Victorian Governments along with the Australian Constructors Association, major industry players and leading workplace academics.

The Culture Standard aims to foster better practices and behaviours on major construction sites in order to improve worker wellbeing and to enhance the long-term sustainability of the sector.

In particular, the standard aims to:

  • ensure that working hours and arrangements are such that workers have sufficient time for recuperation as well as family and life outside work
  • institute practices that help to improve worker health and wellbeing; and
  • develop a more inclusive culture which ensures the industry can attract a diverse range of people into its workforce including women.

The interim report aims to gauge the effect of implementation of the standard on five major pilot projects.

Findings will be used to refine and develop the final version of the standard.

Once the final version is released, it is intended that the Standard will be mandated on government projects and incorporated into the project tendering process.

Initiatives that are being trialled on the projects as part of implementing the standard include:

  • varying project hours, including the adoption of different work schedules
  • implementing a mentoring program for women
  • incorporating a Respect policy into subcontract agreements
  • providing basketball courts and table tennis tables on site
  • providing a Wellbeing Board to nominate flexible work days
  • providing mental health first aiders
  • providing a wellbeing allowance and wellbeing days for direct employees; and
  • appointing a health consultant to attend site.

As mentioned above, survey respondents indicated their preference for a five-day work week.

During in-depth interviews that were undertaken as part of the research, workers indicated that five-day weeks enabled them to spend more time with family and friends and to participate more readily in leisure activities.

Doing these is more difficult with a six-day working week as this results in schedules which do not align with the those of family members and friends.

Having a two-day weekend also allowed greater time for rest and recovery at the end of the week.

“I think you’re a lot happier (with a five-day working week) because you know, you get two days off regardless, you can plan your life,” one male worker on a site-based role said.

“So knowing that you don’t work weekends, you can plan family time with the kids.”

Another male worker on a site-based role indicated that he did not see himself doing a six-day per week job again and did not wish to do such a job.

To be sure, there had been concern that moves toward a five-day week would reduce worker earning capacity and compromise project delivery.

For the most part, however, these concerns have proven to be unfounded in the pilot projects.

Whilst some workers saw a reduction in their pay with a five-day week, many of those who were interviewed indicated that the impact was minimal and was more than outweighed by the benefits of spending more time with family.

As for project deadlines, interview participants indicated that productivity was not adversely affected by working only five days.

This occurred on account of Saturday being generally a lower productivity day across the industry as well as the offsetting productivity gains which occur from workers being fresher and healthier with a five-day week.

Outside of work hours, the pilot projects also found that implementation of the Culture Standard mostly helped to improve outcomes regarding women on sites and worker wellbeing.

Across each of the pilot projects, women indicated that they had access to better provision of amenities compared with what they have experienced at previous projects.

Women also indicated that they mostly feel accepted and well-respected in workplaces at each of the pilot projects.

However, several women still experienced examples of banter on site that was sometimes sexist or inappropriate.

In relation to worker wellbeing, participants across pilot projects felt that their wellbeing was well supported by managers.

However, whilst some participants experienced lower stress levels compared with their previous employment, others indicated an experience of higher levels of stress.

This occurred account of the compression of work time that was associated with the five-day working week and a consequent intensification of work that needed to be completed within a single day.

Gabrielle Trainor AO, chair of the CICT and interim chief commissioner of Infrastructure Australia, said that implementation of the Culture Standard will have a significant positive impact on practices, behaviours and outcomes.

“Cultural change in the industry is one of the key ways to address the acute skills shortage that has led to escalating labour costs and stagnant productivity in an industry which has so many other reasons to be a place to have a great career,” Trainor said.

“The Culture Standard, designed to be part of the procurement process, means a level playing field for contractors and government clients buy in, project by project, to creating better, safer, and more equitable work environments and support construction to become an industry of choice.”


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