Working long hours
From the early 20th century the long hours worked in New Zealand industry were a cause for concern. In 1936 the newly elected Labour government reduced ordinary working hours (before overtime was payable) from about 48 to 40 hours a week. During the Second World War there were further restrictions on the amount of overtime worked in various industries, particularly to protect the health of women and boy workers.
Who works the longest?
In the early 2000s New Zealand was one of a small number of industrialised countries, along with Greece, Japan and South Korea, where a significant proportion of the employed population worked long hours – defined as 50 hours or more per week.
Overall, in 2006, 23% of employed people worked 50 or more hours a week – 32% of men and 12% of women. Managers were most likely to work long hours.
Other occupations that often involve long hours of work include farmers, fishers and truck drivers. Younger people and those nearing retirement were less likely to work long hours. Clerical and administrative workers and sales workers were the occupational groups least likely to work such hours.
The trend for many New Zealanders to spend long hours at work was counterbalanced to some extent by a drop in the numbers who worked full-time. In 1986, 85% of workers were in full-time work, but by 2006 this had reduced to 77%. This reflected an increase in the number of young people who combined study with part-time work, and older people moving into retirement.
Working long hours does not necessarily mean getting more work done. The two main forces for economic growth are labour utilisation (the total amount of paid work done in the economy) and labour productivity (the average amount produced by each worker).
In the early 2000s New Zealand had high employment rates and a large proportion of the workforce working long hours, so it had a high level of labour utilisation. However, the rate of labour productivity was much lower than many other OECD countries. From the 1990s New Zealand governments have explored ways to improve productivity by shifting to high-value, high-skill industries, where more is earned for fewer hours worked.