When shopping less costs people their jobs…

There is a certain irony in the fact that the most recent dispute over working hours in France has seen many French employees side with their employers rather than with the unions representing them. In the interests of maintaining the work-life balance that the French are very well known for, unions have successfully pushed for retailer Monoprix and cosmetics chain Sephora to close their stores by 9 PM and for DIY chains in the Paris region to remain closed on Sundays. Employees, though, aren’t happy: many of them argue that the elimination of late-night and weekend shifts will cost them their jobs. Here’s the dilemma: employees can’t make a living wage without working at times they really should be taking off, but working late and on weekends is good for neither family life nor health. And keeping shops open for longer hours inevitably encourages a consumer culture that, as I’ve mentioned before, isn’t good for us as consumers and simply can’t be sustained with the resources we have. The problem, clearly, is systemic.

So what do we do? Work sharing is an easy way to tackle the twin problems of overwork and unemployment: instead of having some workers work long hours while others can’t find a job, workers could simply work shorter hours for the same amount of pay or more – whatever amount can be deemed a living wage. The results on their part would be a far less stressful lifestyle and more time to actually live their lives without having to constantly worry about their finances. And what’s in it for the employers? Unlike what mainstream economists would like us to believe, employees working shorter hours tend to be more productive than those working longer hours and require less sick leave. And firms won’t simply end up passing their costs on to the consumer. McDonald’s employees in the United States, on average, make just over the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. The company’s Australian employees, on the other hand, make around the country’s minimum wage of $14.50 per hour (the US dollar and Australian dollar are roughly equal in value at the time of writing). You’d think McDonald’s would be a hell of a lot more expensive in Australia than in the US. Indeed, a Big Mac costs a whopping six cents more! Not sure how I’ll ever afford to eat at McDonald’s in Australia…


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