The idea of moving to a four-day working week is catching on during the coronavirus crisis, and the 4 Day Week Campaign believes that Labour should reaffirm its commitment to the policy before the Tories get there first. Millions of us used lockdown to reconsider what we believe to be important in our lives – and for many, that’s having a better work-life balance.
Over the weekend, we released new polling that showed if everyone could move to a four-day week, with no loss of pay, an overwhelming 53% of people would spend their extra free time with family. The polling was an interesting snapshot of how the country could be happier and healthier as a result of working less.
39% said they would use the extra free time to recuperate and rest, 38% would socialise with friends and 36% would use the time for exercise. In a potential major and much-needed boost to the UK tourism sector, 30% said they would take more short holidays in the UK. These findings followed polling last month, which showed that two thirds of the UK population support the government exploring the introduction of a four-day week – including 57% of Conservative voters.
Over the last few weeks, our campaign has been in discussion with the Treasury about the policy via Labour MP Clive Lewis. While they haven’t signalled that they will be adopting it any time soon, Treasury minister Kemi Badenoch has committed to an open dialogue with the campaign and requested a copy of the new report ‘Time for Change‘ by think tank Autonomy, which proposes a Shorter Working Time Subsidy Scheme (SWTSS).
This is what we’re going to be campaigning for as we head towards the Autumn Budget in October – and it would be great to have Labour’s backing on this policy. Behind the scenes, we’ve been having conversations with the party, and we know that many senior frontbenchers openly support a four-day week. We’re also pleased to have Andy McDonald, Shadow Secretary for Employment Rights, joining us at an online public meeting in September.
We appreciate that the policy took a bit of a hammering at the 2019 general election. We also understand communication concerns around calling for people to do less work at a time when hundreds of thousands have been made redundant and are desperate for any work they can get.
This conundrum is what drove Autonomy to write Time for Change. The report calls on the government to replace the furlough scheme, once it winds down, with a SWTSS. This would prevent mass unemployment in sectors that are struggling the most, while at the same time helping with the transition to more desirable working patterns in the longer-term.
The proposal is inspired by the German Kurzarbeit scheme, recognised as the ‘gold standard’ by the IMF, which both Anneliese Dodds and Ed Miliband have pointed towards in the last couple of weeks. This is very encouraging, and we hope that Labour officially backs a scheme for shorter working time in the near future. In the face of a government with no substantial plan for unemployment, it’s urgent that the party backs a strategy for retaining jobs and provides a vision for what constitutes ‘good work’.
With everything still up in the air, many questioning their relationship with work and more automation on the way, the move to a four-day week feels inevitable. But we want to reach that point more quickly. Since the 1980s, workers in the UK have seen almost no reduction in their working hours. While our productivity lags behind, we work longer hours than most other European countries. The Tories are beginning to recognise this and have stopped publicly attacking the policy as presumably they can see which way the wind is blowing.
Analysis of the Tory and Labour manifestos in 2015 showed that the Conservatives were far more future thinking. Jeremy Corbyn learnt this lesson in 2017, and it’s an important one for Labour’s new frontbench team. When times are so uncertain, being able to carve out a vision for the future is essential. The move to a four-day week is long overdue: we hope that Labour will recognise this by backing our campaign as soon as possible.
Andy McDonald MP, Shadow Employment Rights Secretary, and Labour MP Clive Lewis will take part in online public meeting ‘Has the time come for a four-day week?’ on Tuesday 8th September, 6pm-7.30pm. Follow @4Day_Week for an announcement soon about the event.