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Unions to push for portable long service leave as Aussies work harder than ever

Jessica Irvine for The Daily Telegraph writing about The McKell Institute’s Portable Long Service Leave report.

UNIONS are preparing a push for a national portable long service leave scheme to enable workers to accrue long service leave entitlements with multiple employers.

Australians are working harder than ever, but only one in four of us will ever qualify for long service leave.

The rise of casual work and more frequent job switching means fewer people are getting to enjoy a well-deserved mid-career break.

Australia is one of only a handful of countries to offer long service leave, typically consisting of two months paid leave for every 10 years worked for the same company. However, in some states and companies, long service leave is accrued after seven years.

A reward for loyal service, the leave is also increasingly a crucial break for stressed-out workers who work some of the longest hours in the developed world, according to a new report released today by the McKell Institute.

The Institute’s executive director, Peter Bentley, said access to a mid-career break was important to help rejuvenate workers and help families struggling with a work life balance.

“Long Service Leave is a great Australian innovation. We started it, we evolved it, but lately, we’ve been losing it,” Mr Bentley said.

“That’s a huge shame, because with our alarmingly time poor modern lives, we need it now more than ever.”

According to Bernard Salt, a demographer with KPMG, the rise of iPhones and other smart devices meant workers today were constantly connected to the office and at risk of “burnout”.

“It used to be you worked nine-to-five and then you were uncontactable until the next day. Today we are connected to the office 24/7.” Mr Salt said.

“We’re breeding an entire generation that by the middle of the 2020s will have had 20 years of non-disconnection from the workforce. That might lead to burnout unless you have these career breaks.”

The executive director of the Centre for Workforce Futures at Macquarie University, Professor Ray Markey, said the cost to employers of an expanded long service leave scheme would be offset by higher productivity among workers.

“Rested workers are more productive, are less likely to have accidents and less likely to take time off. It’s likely that much of the costs, which are small anyway, could be offset by higher productivity,” he said.

Fair Work Australia recommended in 2010 that a national scheme for portable leave be investigated.

The secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, David Oliver, told News Limited a portable scheme was important to stop the erosion of long service leave entitlements by casual work.

“Long service leave and annual leave are basic rights of any worker in Australia, but the nature of the workforce today means that many workers are missing out on these entitlements. As Australians, we work hard, and we deserve our holidays and sick leave,” he said.

Parts of the construction industry had already introduced portable leave schemes and the ACTU was investigating ways to expand the scheme to other industries.

Australians are spending more years in the workforce than ever before, according to the McKell Institute report.

A boy born in 2001 will spend about 35 years of his life working. This will rise to 39 years for boys born in 2021.

For girls, the predicted increase in working years is even more stark.

A girl born in 2021 can expect to work for 35 years, up from 29 years for girls born in 2001.

A recent survey by the Centre for Work + Life found 56 per cent of workers would rather

have two weeks’ additional leave instead of a 4 per cent pay rise.