An Opinion piece by Tony Orman
Each October New Zealand celebrates Labour Day with a public holiday. The country rejoices in the 40 hour working week. But really politicians have both an audacity and arrogance plus a good dollop of hypocrisy to recognise Labour Day as a public holiday. I’ll explain why. Frequently when I happened to meet a fellow angler or hunter, the conversation almost always goes like this. As anglers and hunters are inclined, we stop to swap fibs. You see, although anglers and hunters are born honest, they soon get over it.
The conversations seem to follow a similar pattern.
“Get out fishing on the long weekend?” I ask.
The replies follow a common lament, “Too busy during the week doing 50 and 60 hours a week. Comes the weekend there’s the family and besides I’m just stuffed.”
It has become a not uncommon situation particularly for today’s young parents with young families. For many, the 40 hour working week now doesn’t happen – it’s been eroded – it’s now history. People are working not just eight hours a day but more. The weekends are no longer a time for family with Saturday and Sunday trading now common. What’s the hurry all about?
Yet I recall back about 1970, politicians said to prepare for earlier retirement and more leisure time in the Autumn of our years. However something has reversed that and it probably began in 1984 with Rogernomics.
And because of the burgeoning cost to government of superannuation, every now and again, the talk is to extend the retirement age to 67 or even 70. But it’s a double edged sword. At the other edge, for school leavers and teenagers, job opportunities will diminish because older people will be forced to carry on working.
Most politicians seem not to have comprehended that the State will have to pay unemployment benefits to youngsters unable to get jobs.
And its not good news for youngsters. The social impact can be devastating with the self-esteem of many youths plummeting. That then manifests itself in a disgruntled youth sector and sometimes aggressive behaviour and crime – at great cost to the country. And tragically even suicide – as shown by NZ’s abnormally high youth suicide rates. Incredibly “In terms of child health, New Zealand has the highest rates of suicide in the OECD for youth aged 15‐19,” according to Doctor Google.
The Guts of it All
Here’s the crux of it all.
Successive New Zealand governments have slyly and steadily eroded our standard of living in economic terms. Today invariably, a household can no longer exist on one average income but needs at least two average incomes to sustain a living for two adults and two children. The situation is aggravated by a rampant consumer-driven economy spawned under the free market neo-liberal Rogernomics mantra.
And also have the new wave of “liberated” mothers got it wrong? As a youngster my father worked, my mother was at home. Should today’s liberated mothers mock their mothers for being the vital home manager. The trouble is while the modern woman may delude herself she’s alive and active being “busy”, the reality is she (and her husband) are in danger of being exhausted from being workaholics with inevitable burnout. Weekends can become recuperation rather than leisure.
I’m not against someone working if they want to, but if they put themselves under severe stress and have no leisure time and particular for the young family, what’s life really about? And severe stress undermines health – down the track – more cost to the State.
Option Means Choice
Similarly the right to retire at age 65 – or 60 as it used to be in New Zealand – should be an option. Perhaps we need a massive culture shift not only collectively but individually??
One day when I admitted to a friend Ben, I hadn’t been snapper fishing because I had been too busy, he said, “Well Tony, just remember this, when you’re on your death bed, you won’t wish you’d spent more time at the office!”
Great advice. Thanks Ben.
The late Ted Trueblood, superb writer for “Field and Stream” in the US in the 1950s, penned his “Rule of Tomorrow” Never say I’ll go tomorrow. When you get a chance to go fishing, go. If you wait until tomorrow, tomorrow will drag into next week and next week and next week will drag into next month and next month into next year and some day it will be too late.”
Ever noticed at the supermarket or petrol station checkout, the tired question often is “Having a Busy Day?” I often politely reply “I’m trying not to be too busy,” or similar. And I give a brief sermon, people are just too damned busy.
Some might say a famous American conservationist Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862) had the right idea. In 1837, Henry Thoreau gave a Harvard university commencement address ande advocated that perhaps the order of things should be reversed – the seventh day should be a day of work for sweat and toil, the remaining six days should be free for individuals to fill their souls with “sublime revelations of nature.”
Now there’s a thought, if somewhat extreme. Nevertheless Thoreau makes the point. And as Thoreau asked in his book “Walden”, “Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life?”
What we need is to restore the 40 hour working week and then with a clear conscience, celebrate it honestly.