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I’ll be off now

The ‘nine-day fortnight’ will report for duty at many workplaces this jolly July. On the tenth day, we’ll be rested

The ‘nine-day fortnight’ will report for duty at many workplaces this jolly July. On the tenth day, we’ll be rested

Gena Tuffery

[Workplace]

As this magazine is rushed from press to stand, workers everywhere are rushing nowhere. The latest batch signed up to the friendly Job Support Scheme—‘hey, call me The Nine-Day Fortnight’—is settling in for the first of a series of paid days off.

Part-paid, anyway. Five hours at minimum wage—the much sniffed-at government compensation for enduring the inconvenience of not having to go to work. “What? $62.50! I’d get over a hundred if I went into the office!” Yes Bob, but you’d be working.

Worker bees weren’t the only ones to skin the scheme when it was first offered to large companies in March, and expanded to all companies with at least 50 staff in April. The beekeepers got pretty pissy too. The New Zealand Institute of Economic Research claimed the plan would “artificially protect jobs”—you can’t fire someone on a nine-dayer—and worse, potentially “prop up the ‘wrong’ ones”.

The NZIER also recommended such systems “should be removed after the crisis has passed”. Nobody knows how long this latest panic will prevail before it’s replaced by a wild strain of Peacock Flu, or a US presidential plea to join the War on Paranoia, but at the moment each job-saving contract expires in six months. So let’s not worry about building false markets just yet, eh? Since the system has now come into effect, let’s put our energy into strengthening real markets instead.

There’s the potential for all participants to come out on top. Businesses struggling to feed over 50 hungry bank accounts can buy some time to think and plan—or let the government shout them six months to do it. And everyone else? What benefit do you get, besides the aforementioned free money to lie in bed and count your toes, cosy in the knowledge that you have six months of guaranteed job security?

Don’t worry. If you need other reasons to not get out of bed, there are plenty. The biggest: you officially deserve a break—the United Nations says so. A 2007 UN report found New Zealanders worked more hours than every developed nation bar three. That’s more than the Czech Republic, South Korea, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia—and most other places you feel guilt towards for profiting from their production-line mentality. So relax. Have a sleep-in, you poor, overworked wretch. You’ll probably snore all day, not spend anything, and end up $62.50 better off.

A 2007 UN report found New Zealanders worked more hours than every developed nation bar three. That’s more than the Czech Republic, South Korea, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. So relax. Have a sleep-in, you poor, overworked wretch. You’ll probably snore all day, not spend anything, and end up $62.50 better off

But if you think that kind of passive income is just a bit too passive, remember no-one’s actually stopping you from punching in. They’re just saying ‘Please don’t do it in the same chair, staring at the same computer, in front of the same photo of your dog in a dress, as you do on every one of the other nine workdays.’

If you need to work, work. You could get a casual job doing something you would never dare give up your career to try. Or you could try something you wouldn’t want to do for ten days a fortnight, but would find quite interesting to do for one. I live near Auckland’s K Road, and The Den Adult Concepts Store always has a sign out for casual workers. For instance.

Or you could spend your day self-employed, pursuing your own commercial success. In Alain de Botton’s latest book, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (Buy@Fishpond), the only mention New Zealand gets is a reference to our great annual presence in a hangar in north-west London. Here, de Botton says, we’re to be found manning rented stands at an event designed to introduce small business owners to potential investors, “and taking advantage of discounted accommodation in an adjacent Best Western”. Deep down, down under, we’re all bargain-loving entrepreneurs. And hell, with a knocked-together garden shed and a day off every fortnight, we can fill that hangar next year. And that Best Western. Worst case scenario: there will be some really fun garage sales in 2010.

But maybe you already have a dream to rival Susan Boyle’s, but you just need the voice coaching—or the welding training—to live it. Well, more good news: training institutes are offering more than 3,000 free or low-cost places to workers signed onto the Nine-Dayer. Fifteen hundred are at the Open Polytechnic and available on most of its 1,300 courses—from certificate to degree level. While you might be hard pushed to get a degree in six months of alternate Fridays, you can make a start. Or, if you’re up for a quick retrain, dancers are welcome to apply for a Certificate in Plumbing and Gasfitting, and plumbers are encouraged to go for a Certificate in Manufacturing Jewellery.

But really, I must emphasise the special wisdom of my first suggestion on how to spend your tenth workday: toe counting. If you won’t listen to me, maybe you’ll listen to a wiser man. Aristotle, points out de Botton, knew that “the labour of the hands, as much as the mercantile sides of the mind, would lead to psychological deformation”.

A philosopher closer to home—Bob Jones—once told the Listener that “business success stems from imagination and an enquiring mind”. And how do we develop that? “If you’re working, you haven’t got time to think. So do less work.” I don’t know how rich Aristotle was, but Bob Jones has a few bob, so this must be advice worth taking.