IT staff guinea pigs in labour union test case

Australian IT staff are at the centre of an Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) dispute to determine “average weekly hours.”

While employers and unions agree the standard working week has increased in the past decade, IT staff are being used as guinea pigs in new research which claims “most workers want to work longer hours.”

However, not everyone agrees; some say that using the IT sector as an example sets an artificial benchmark, because it does not have typical working hours and is not a broad reflection of the workforce.

While the Australian Council of Trade unions (ACTU) is arguing the Australian workforce has the most unpaid overtime in the developed world, the Australian Industry (Ai) Group is disputing these claims based on research it has undertaken which covers IT staff.

Admitting IT staff worked “long and unpredictable”, hours the Ai report claimed those surveyed preferred to work harder than they did three years ago to maintain a competitive edge.

The report cited large-scale changes in the IT sector including a drop in business opportunities, increased mergers, the downsizing of IT departments and fewer jobs. It also pointed out that globalization hits the IT sector with greater force and employees are a more ‘budget accountable’ workforce.

“With a drop in the previous level of headhunting and a more stagnant job market, IT employees are becoming more competitive; IT professionals are now being forced to see themselves as a cost to the company rather than a necessity.”

The report also claims technology is impacting on the Australian workforce.

“There is a common complaint that the expectation of technology making life easier has not yet become a reality. Indeed, many feel that the reverse is actually happening – that technology is making life harder, by driving expectations of faster response times, and always being in contact.”

Gartner analyst Steve Bittinger said mobile connectivity allows IT professionals the flexibility to work longer hours.

He said “bare bones” factors like economic pressures and the desire to earn more money compelled staff to work longer and harder.

“IT professionals are among the first to feel the competitive forces of globalization and the workforce; IT is more than just a job. It’s a profession. People work in IT because they like it,” Bittinger said.

The IRC case is the first time working hours have been reviewed since the eight-hour day was introduced in 1947 and the ACTU has told the hearing overwork is costing Australia A$3 billion (US$1.56 billion) in fatigue-related workplace incidents.