A recent article by Paul Kershaw in 7 february, 2012 Vancouver Sun titled ‘The case for shorter work years and longer work lives” exemplifies the worst trait in public policy proponents: they pay no attention to the unintended consequences of their proposals.
Kershaw makes several observations that I think many of us can be empathetic towards for any number of reasons:
- The rise in dual-earner households. The lamentable (maybe0 consequence is that childcare, caregiving and other similar tasks get shortchanged. Reasons: desire for most females to have meaningful career opportunities too; economic necessity (supposedly household incomes for young couples has stalled since 1976).
- Working longer hours (than other jurisdictions such as Germany and Norway). This erodes the opportunity to be home with children or giving care to aging parents.
The policy proposal: adjusting the definition of full-time-work from 40 hours to 35 hours per week on average over a year. Benenfits?
- A HUGE (emphasis is Kershaw”s) difference when it comes to mitigating the time squeeze.
Apparently we can do this in a manner that is good for employees and employers. “We could adapt overtime and EI premiums to make it less costly for businesses to use employees up to 35 hours per week, and more costly for hours thereafter.” Kershaw suggests there are productivity gains to be made by this switch. He notes that the Dutch, Norwegian, German and French Citizens work fewer hours while their productivity is higher. He further notes that data suggests employers didn’t replace the reduced hours with more employment – they improved worker productivity.
Who wouldn’t subscribe to the opportunity to work less and not lose economically thereby, improving opportunities to take care of other important commitments in our lives?
There are consequences touch policies though and they are not trivial:
- This policy benefit only a portion of the workforce – those in employee like circumstances. Such policies will do nothing for the self employed, the small business owner. These are a significant portion of the total Canadian workforce.
- This policy can make worse systemic unemployment issues. I have read that systemic youth unemployment in countries like France, Spain and others is dangerously high. If such a policy to artificially impede employment through “cost of doing business caps” indirectly aggravates other policy employment issues we should be mindful of these before introducing them.
I would suggest that any policy that materially impacts the cost ability to maximize return on talent needs to be looked at from two perspectives:
- Will we actually receive the benefits from the change? Will the policy be withdrawn if it does not?
- Will we be enabling in direct or indirect ways other social issues(e.g., off-shoring of certain occupations, structural impediments to hiring full-time workers, creating privileged/unprivileged stratifications within our society, etc.)?
I am cynical about social policies that do not deliver and/or create adjacent issues and the response is to add to these by layering additional “restrictions”.
I would be fascinated to hear form readers who in