There has been a lot of public discussion lately about work time in the public and private sectors. Today, the Conference Board of Canada released a report saying that sick time, mostly in the public sector, is a problem to the cost of $16.6 Billion per year. The Canadian Tax Payers Federation has recently critiqued the sick days taken by public workers in Quebec and in Ottawa. What is behind this assessment? On one level, there is a blatant ideological attack on unionized public sector workers suggesting that they are entitled and thus not hard workers. But on another level is the assumption that the only value workers provide in the economy is when they labour in paid employment. In essence, paid work time is the only value we place on these workers.
Yet, Jeff Noonan argues in his masterful new book, Materialist Ethics and Life Value, that the free realization of human life capacity is grounded in taking back control of workers' time. In other words, in order to fulfill our capacities as human beings we need time to rest, time be healthy, and time to be free from exploitative and stressful relationships. Here Noonan argues,
"Since human freedom is a form of activity, and all activity takes place in time, the full experience of time as free depends not only on the quantity of time available for our own appropriation but on how we experience the time in which we act. The full experience of time as free is not given in the experience of not having to do one thing rather than another but of being able to do in the present what we decide is most live-valuable, unconstrained by temporal pressures generated by the ruling value system over our activity (80)."
Noonan's point is not to ignore the importance of work to reproduce socially necessary goods or services (we all have to eat) but rather that we can only fulfill our full potential as human beings by creating socially necessary (and valuable) time. Such an analysis is different than the assumptions made by the Conference Board and the CTF which simply reinforces the dominant value-system by quantifying workers based on money-value and the time they spend at work. Having time to be healthy is essential to living full lives. The struggle for more free time seems like an essential struggle for a just and good society.