Five-day work week a “game-changer” for construction industry

By Jarrod
5 Min Read

Tradies could be saying goodbye to weekend work as experts call on sites to adopt a five-day 50-hour working week.

The Construction Industry Culture Taskforce (CICT), led by the governments of NSW and Victoria and the Australian Constructors Association, released an in-depth report this week into the industry’s culture, highlighting the problems around excessive work hours and the benefits of addressing them.

While researchers looked at several strategies for improving the work culture on five pilot projects, by far the most popular among tradies was the idea of a five-day work week, with 84 per cent of workers on salaries and 61 per cent of tradies earning an hourly preferring the schedule. 

This preference won’t shock many career tradies working in the industry, as six-day work weeks and lengthy shifts have become almost routine in projects across the country.

According to CICT and interim chief commissioner of Infrastructure Australia Gabrielle Trainor AO, it’s this poor work-life balance that has so many tradies reaching for the exit door. 

“The lack of work and life balance faced by many construction workers can cause significant stress, relationship issues and reduced productivity,” Ms Trainor said. 

“However, the five-day work schedule preferred by the workers in the study allowed them to spend more time with their kids, play sport, see friends or relax, and a two-day weekend also ensured they were better rested and recovered from the work week.

“Monday to Friday is clearly shown in this study to be the ideal.”

How does it impact productivity and pay?

While a reduction in working days understandably raised concerns around impacts on productivity and pay, feedback from the pilot project workers showed that the updated schedule could be implemented with only minimal impact. 

“On our Mulgoa Road Upgrade Project Stage 1, our team reported that productivity was not adversely affected by implementing the Culture Standard’s five-day work week,” said Greg Anderson, Seymour Whyte Alliance Manager in New South Wales.

“With Saturdays typically seeing lower productivity across the industry, the loss of Saturday as a workday in the move to a Monday-to-Friday schedule was more than offset by the fact that we had a better rested, healthier, and more satisfied workforce, which led to productivity improvements across the five-day week.

“We also saw positive impacts in terms of recruitment, with other workers in the industry seeking to join our project due to the five-day work week.”

Before the implementation of the draft Culture Standard at the pilot projects, some workers on wages were concerned about the effect on their pay.

However, once the Culture Standard was operating, many of these same workers said that the effects on their pay had been minimal and, even though they may have experienced a small reduction in their earnings, the benefits of spending more time with their family and friends outweighed the cost.

A culture in need of change

As Australia’s construction industry tackles another tough year, Ms Trainor said that this culture shift could be exactly what the country needs to address the acute skills shortages that have seen labour costs skyrocket and productivity hit record lows. 

“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,” she said.

“These findings also demonstrate the positive benefits of a deliberate and accountable focus on ensuring no one works excessive hours and flexibility is built in, and where measures on diversity and wellbeing are also in place to support the other key aspects of culture change women and young men are looking for.

Australian Constructors Association CEO Jon Davies said while recognising the need to limit the hours worked, the pilots are also considering how to maintain the flexibility of projects to work the hours needed to meet operational requirements. 

“The Culture Standard acknowledges the interconnectedness of working hours, wellbeing, and gender diversity,” said Davies.

“Addressing working hours in isolation from wellbeing and gender diversity won’t yield the desired cultural transformation and outcomes.”

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By Jarrod
Jarrod Brown combines his background in journalism, copywriting and digital marketing with a lifelong passion for storytelling. He has a strong passion for new and emerging consumer technology within the building sector. He lives on the Sunshine Coast - usually found glued to the deck of a surfboard.