Working time concerns all employees, and is still a contentious issue. The controversy in recent years has primarily revolved around who should determine how many hours we can work, and at what schedules. What should be regulated within the Work Environment Act? And what should be regulated by collective agreements? How should regulation be divided between central and local levels? The need for greater flexibility as well as extended opening hours are two driving forces for change, and for the ongoing discussion on working time.
Another key area of Fafo research is full-time and part-time work, including both desired and undesired part-time work. Which consequences do part-time work have for individual employees, and for workplace conditions, and what can be done to reduce involuntary part-time?
The discussion on development trends in the field of working time revolves around two overarching dimensions. One is about flexibility in terms of working time, on employer and employee terms respectively. The interests of the employer and employee are not necessarily contradictory, but interests may in many cases be conflictual. The second dimension concerns tensions between regulatory arrangements and levels of regulation. This concerns whether central law and agreement regulations are sufficiently flexible to protect both enterprises and employees’ need for local solutions.
Changes to working time reflect changes in competitive and market conditions, industry and employment structure, organization of family life, technology and corporate and work organization. Driving forces include pressure for greater availability as well as attention to economic and efficient operation. Other drivers are concerns for customers, consumers and users of nursing and care facilities and services. Employee preferences for working time and differences in work content and professional roles also influence the development in terms of working time. Employee preferences vary by age, gender and life situation. However, some preferred working hours are shared by many – such as interest for continuous working hours and leisure time, and the desire to work in full-time positions or having longer working hours. The latter applies to employees working part-time on an involuntarily basis. An average calculation of working hours in order to achieve continuous leisure time may express flexibility on the employee's terms, while at the same time such arrangements may in some instances imply that the normal work day is put under pressure. It can also result in that workers who do not want to work irregular hours, are being put under pressure.
The issue of working time regulation is a disputed one. Various considerations and conflicting interests create dilemmas at different levels. One may argue that the issue should be resolved at the enterprise level, provided that the preferences in terms of working time arrangements are best known at this level. However, the local and central bargaining levels have a number of various fundamental characteristics, leading researchers to warn against extensive decentralization in the regulation of working conditions. Power inequalities at the local level may negatively affect employees or local trade unions with limited bargaining power. Among employees this applies primarily to those in a weaker position in the labour market.
Lately, the discussion about alternative working time arrangements has revolved around regulation levels, as well as the relationship between central direction and local design. What is the connection between alternative working time arrangements and health effects? The price of flexibility is also controversial - how much should it cost to apply long or unsocial working hours? Should compensation be given as time or money? The alternative working time schemes only cover a small part of the working life, compared to ordinary day-time working hours and shift and rotating schedules.
Researchers have stressed that an expanded understanding of time welfare should include working time policies not just concerned about the length of the workday, but also about workday contents. This partly is about the intensification of work hours, workday inequality in distribution and appreciation - and about justice and opportunities to actively participate in working life and society.