With school holidays just ending, it occurred to me that there is an untapped opportunity in our industrial relations laws and workplace practices: the possibility of trading leave. As an academic, school holidays are rarely family holidays as this is the time I have to attend conferences. That means that we end up with leave imbalances in our household; it’s hard to take family vacations but invariably I have more leave accrued than I can take.

This is probably not an uncommon problem. The chances that two workers in a household can balance their leave entitlements seems low. Differences in job flexibility and potential salaries can generate all of that. But, in our case, as in others, there is a clear gain to trade. It would be great if I could sell some of my leave to my spouse and restore balance. The same is true for parental leave.

It is relatively easy to see how this could be done. What you need to do is impute the salary-adjusted leave weighting and literally have one employer buy back leave from another. This could be any type of leave: annual, sick or parental. Those issues are household issues anyway.

Of course, we currently have a system whereby you can buy back leave. As I have written before, that system has its problems. But it also does not allow that bought back leave to be translated into something potentially more valuable: greater leave for another person. That is a lost opportunity all around. Does an employer of a key engineer really want them taking their entitled parental leave for a sick child when another family member could do that but for their own exhaustion of such leave?

And there is no reason to think of this as just a family opportunity. Think of the possibility of people being able to help their sick mates with additional sick leave. An office could each trade a day and give a person a month or more leave. They could then make it up in a later year.

Thinking about the broader context for industrial relations and workplace practices beyond the simple employer-employee relationship is surely where we have to look for innovative policy-making.

Joshua Gans blogs at CoreEcon.

Peter Fray

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