One of the most controversial policies ever introduced in the public service was in January 2014 when the Public Service Commission announced that the government departments and employees will work a four-day week and still receive their normal five-day working week salaries.
After seven years, the government is now deciding on the future of this four-day working week with the Minister of Finance Crossley Tatui in his budget speech saying that the government can no longer afford to sustain the four-day working week.
In an interview with BCN news, Minister Tatui said that the founding policies and reasons for having the four days may still be applicable but the concern is about affordability and sustainability saying “We really need to look seriously into the implications because of the situation we’re facing with a deficit budget, I don’t think we can survive going forward with the four days work policy”.
The government’s personnel budget for the new financial year is $15.6 million dollars. The direct budget support from New Zealand an annual tranche of $7.5 million will cover less than half this personnel budget and the government will have to generate revenue to meet the rest of it’s growing public service costs.
Minister Tatui says that the government’s fiscal policies agreed upon with New Zealand is designed to achieve a balanced or break-even budget and the $4.7 million deficit budget means some changes will have to be made.
“If we’re left with no other option, the four-day policy must be looked at as one of the first feasible options to apply to revert back to the five days. Notwithstanding the fact that we have to weigh up the costs at the same time. Whether we allow the four days to continue without paying for the Friday, these are the possible options we must look at”.
In 2014, the government and the Public Service Commission felt that it was a good move to allow the public servants a day off to tend to their community obligations and for those who have businesses. However, the move was also criticised by many as political campaigning to gain favour with the largest group of workers on the island. The private sector businesses have been very critical of the four-day working week.
In the absence of a public servant’s representative body such as the Public Servants Association (PSA), BCN News conducted a quick poll of businesses and public servants. All five public servants spoken to said that they preferred the four-day week. Most of them said that they used their day off to contribute to village work and take part in community activities such as weaving groups. One said that her one day off which is a Friday, she spends at the University of the South Pacific, where she’s enrolled in a course.
Not surprising when asked the same question, the businesses and NGOs contacted today said they would prefer the public service to return to a five-day week. One said that it is not fair that some people are working four days while others are working five days when we all live in the same communities. Of the five people spoken to, one business owner said that she has become used to the four-day week so she is okay with the government maintaining the four-day week.