Rather oddly for the anti-commodification think-tank the Australia Institute, their latest paper, Something for Nothing – Unpaid Overtime in Australia, takes an over-commodified view of paid work.
Authors Richard Denniss and Josh Fear seem baffled by unpaid overtime. ‘It is not immediately obvious,’ they say, ‘why people would choose to work additional hours when they could earn just as much by working less…’. They offer some speculation on worker-employer power balances, social pressure from colleagues, and work addiction.
But their own survey shows that only 12% of people who regularly work unpaid overtime think their jobs would be at risk if they did not work extra hours, and only 9% think that their colleagues would disapprove. By far the largest number, nearly two-thirds, say ‘the work would not get done’.
People working in a political think-tank, of all places, should have realised that many workers have commitments to their job that goes beyond the money they are paid and indeed their particular employer. They can also be motivated by commitments to a cause, to clients (health and education professionals often put the interests of students and patients ahead of going home at 5pm on the dot), and to projects or goals of various kinds.
What people do is often as important as getting every last dollar for it. In the Australian component of the 2005 World Values Survey, a question on job motivation found that more people rated having a job that gave them a sense of accomplishment (33%) as their first priority in a job than a ‘good income’ (29%). In the 2005 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes, 15% of respondents regarded a high income as very important in a job, less than helping other people (24%), having job that is useful to society (26%), or having an interesting job (50%).
Though labour is a commodity, it is not just a commodity. It is about more than money. That is one reason why we should oppose Denniss and Fear’s proposal to regulate work time. While some people may be pleased to be sent home, for others it would be an attack on their right to engage in activites they see as meaningful and important.