The battle over time under late capitalism – time for a four day week


I want to celebrate the promise from Labour and the Greens that we will get another public holiday to celebrate Matarike – the star cluster that Maori use to mark the new year’s arrival.

At least most workers will be able to celebrate this day with a day off work because the bosses won’t want to pay them time and a half for working it and give them an alternative holiday if it is a usual working day for them.
Late capitalism has fought to turn every minute of every day into a potential source of work time and to eliminate anything special about any particular minute. Work processes have become non-stop in many instances.
It used to be a law in this country that working more than 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week would entitle you to penal rates. Work on a Saturday got time and a half for the first four hours then double time after that. Any work on a Sunday was at double time.
Once the legal compulsion to pay penal rates for these times was abolished by National in the early 1990s most workers – especially in the private sector – were not able to keep them as part of their employment agreements.
The bosses do everything they can to control every minute you are at work. they try and steal time off you by making all preparation for work, or cleaning up time after work your responsibility.
Bosses use self-employment agreements to ensure they don’t have to pay for any time waiting around if they don’t have work for you.
Zero-hour contracts became the standard in many industries so bosses had maximum flexibility to suit their needs with no obligations.
New technologies are being used to increase the monitoring and policing of our work.
No consideration is given to the fact that night work is simply bad for people’s health. The Maritime Union has blamed the 12-hour night shifts they are forced to work on the wharves as contributing to a recent death.
The promoters of family values celebrated the destruction of the weekend and the possibility of families to spend time together.
Community life, sport, culture and recreational activities become harder and harder to manage.
Many workers manage by simply working more and more hours. For security guards they are paid a minimum wage and are expected to work a 60-hour week to make a living. No penal rates apl;ly until after 60 hours and then they are lucky if it is time and a quarter.
Other workers are kept on contracts with only a bare minimum of hours guaranteed as a way of getting around the 2015 ban on zero-hour contracts. The boss still gets all the flexibility they want and the workers are forced into a docile “yes sir no sir” situation to get extra hours. Favouritism and bullying remain rife as a consequence.
The ban on zero hour contracts followed a Unite Union-led campaign in the fast food industry. The law also required that workers who have to be available for work should get compensated for this. Very few companies do this however and operate in the knowledge that workers will generally take the extra work offered or run the risk of not being offered it in the future.
In recent years the employment court has started to rule that the process of stealing workers time has gone too far.
The sleepover case in 2016 ruled that workers looking after children in a residential home should get at least the minimum wage when sleeping over because they were required to get up and attend to any issues.
In the Smiths City case in 2018 a 15-minute unpaid meeting before the official start time was deemed paid work.
In December 2018 the court ruled that time spent putting on and taking off protective gear in meat works was work and should be paid.
Earlier this year Postal Workers won a case that overtime could not be compulsory if no compensation was being made for “availability”.
In a post-covid world we have some workers deemed “essential” still on minimum wages.
We have some workers having to work many extra hours every week to meet the health and other emergencies associated with dealing with the crisis whilst other workers are being laid off in the tens of thousands.
The bosses used to force all workers, including children, to work sixty or more hours a week. They were forced to stop a century ago with the mass campaigns for an 8-hour day and forty-hour week. Penal rates were introduced to enforce this change. Bosses were being penalised for forcing workers to do more hours.
Despite the massive growth in the productivity of labour we have actually gone backwards in terms of real pay and control of hours.
We have too many workers working too few hours for too little pay whilst others are forced to work too many hours.
In the post covid world working people need to share the work that is available without losing their ability to make a living. One good way to start would be a four day 32-hour week with a minimum wage of $25 an hour. That would equal a five day 40-hour week at $20 an hour.


  1. I’m sick of slugging away at the coalface for 15 years and all I really have got in return is a half fucked body and little else to show for it. I’m so sick of exploitative bosses and companies treating me like a slave and paying me next to minimum wage while I have skills, qualifications and experience that should demand better pay for my service.

  2. I wonder what businesses or tourism would think if we went back to National’s 3 weeks of annual leave and reduced public holidays?
    As far as I’m aware the earth hasn’t exploded and millions of people have become unproductive.
    Before people get excited about businesses folding and under pressure because of an extra public holiday, can I suggest they come with statistical analysis showing proof that an extra holiday will lead to doomsday scenario.

  3. All very true, Mike.

    However, with capitalism in full-implosion mode, the new government probably won’t have time to introduce and pass legislation before the shit hits the fan big time. I mean really big time.

    ‘Hot money’ is racing round the world, looking for places that won’t see it wiped out as the reality of the imploding real economy hits the fictional and fantastic financial markets.

    ‘First, Wall Street has returned from their Labor Day long weekend in a grumpy mood. The S&P500 was down -2.8% but it is worse in tech with the NASDAQ down -4.1%. Overnight, European markets were similarly negative, down -1.5% on average. Yesterday Shanghai ended up +0.7%, Hong Kong closed up +0.1% and Tokyo was up +0.8%. The ASX200 was up +1.1% and the NZX50 Capital Index was up +0.3% at the close.’

    ‘Oil Prices Tank On Global Demand Concerns’ (benchmark Brent $39.73, down 5.43%)

    And then there’s California in ‘meltdown’, suffering the highest temperatures ever, worst out-of-control fires ever, and the worst yet to come.

    All is on track for a substantial meltdown of pre-Covid-19, pre-abrupt climate change, and pre-fracking-boom economic arrangements before the end of October [2020].

  4. There is some good news though Mike!

    The Maori Party: How to ‘activate’ 360,000 voting beneficiaries and workers in precarious employment! The Māori Party wants the minimum wage to be immediately raised to $25 an hour and is promising to double benefit payments.

  5. In a post-covid world we have some workers deemed “essential” still on minimum wages.

    Generally speaking, we need thousands of essential workers to get stuff done. We don’t need a lot of CEOs.

    Now, if capitalism was actually working as the economists say (i.e, supply and demand) then the essential workers would be paid more then the CEOs because we obviously demand more of them and less CEOs.

    The answer is in two parts:
    1. We need so many workers that we simply can’t afford to pay each of them as well as a CEO
    2. The CEOs have control of the money and pay themselves well from the work of the essential workers.

      • We were fucked when, in 1992, Bush snr stood up and told USians that they could have as many children as they wanted. At that point there we knew that the politicians weren’t going to do anything about climate change because doing so would alter the political dynamic and shunt rich people out of power and wealth.

  6. Well well, a Trade Unionist prompting a 4 day working week. Clearly this joker has never heard about William Balderstone Snr probably the greatest Trade Unionist that NZ never knows about all due to the thanks of the Angus McLagan, the Locke Family and their follow travellers from the NZCP who air brush the Balderstone’s out of NZ Trade Union History.

    William Bladerstone introduced the 4 day working week to the Family Co-Op run Coal Mine in Blackball in the late 30 or in the early 40’s when there was a weekly coal quota without the lost of any production rates though lost time be it manhours or mechanical/ safety. In fact it increased coal production to a point they were down to a 3day week during the war without any compromise to work safety (the then Coal Broad inspectorate and it’s inspections reports make for some interesting reading comparing to the State Mine across the valley and the Bladerstone run Co-Op) anyway the 3day working week was actually unsustainable in the long term to due a number of factors both with in the Co-Op and those outside of their control.

    The 4 day working week was maintained throughout the Mine until the shock closure ie the withdrawal of its Mine License by then National Government in the early 65’s or early 66. As the bloody Tories wanted to shut down the inefficient State Mine. After the War the Bladerstone Co-Op invested heavily in new Mining technology which allow it to reduce its cost per ton even further, which made the 4 day working week even attractive to workers in the Co-Op as not did their pay increase but also their 6monthy bonus did as well. Without any harm to the companies profit or investment in new mining technologies which was a 50/50 split between the workers and new investment including the proposed expansion of the Mine which was to start in the late 60 as William Bladerstone and his second son Len Balderstone who was by then the new Mine manager had found a new coal seam during the war and was continually map and Survey until the mines closure which would’ve turned underground coal mining on it head in NZ until the disastrous NeoCon Lib economic theory in the 90’s destroyed underground coal mining in NZ with the Pike Creek Mine Disaster.

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