Labour’s Plans for a Four Day Working Week

On the 23rd September 2019, at the Labour Party conference, John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, declared that, “the next Labour government will put in place the changes needed to reduce average full-time hours to 32 a week within the next decade.”

This will be done as means to increase the productivity of the English workforce, which has stagnated since the recession. Moreover, these policies will not come at a reduction of pay for workers. This translates to an increase of hourly pay to maintain the base pay of workers. As of 2019, the UK’s workforce has on average been working 42.5 hours a week, which is above the average the EU average of 41.2 hours. A reduction to 32 hours would make it the lowest average by almost 7 hours, which is a considerable margin.

…there have been many criticisms levied against this proposal…

Another reason for this reduction in working hours, is to increase the number of people in work, Labour would ’also ban zero-hour contracts to make sure every employee has a guaranteed number of hours a week too.’ This would ensure that everyone in the UK would be able to make a living wage, whilst also having enough time to spend with loved ones as well as spending time using free public services.

However, there have been many criticisms levied against this proposal, one of which came from a report commissioned by the Labour party. Lord Skidelsky analysed France’s push for a 35-hour work week and the main lesson he learned was that ‘implementation of working time reduction needs to be considered carefully on a sectoral basis: a one-size-fits-all approach will inevitably lead to problems in some sectors.’

Ultimately, Labour are not changing the law overnight…

The main problem he found was in the effectivity of the healthcare system in France, as job creation did not rise to match the reduction of hours, this could easily happen in the NHS as doctors work an average of 48 hours a week. Another evident issue is that fundamentally workers are getting paid 5 days for 4 days’ work. So, if there isn’t a considerable increase in productivity then the underlying costs of businesses will increase, without them getting anything in return.

Ultimately, Labour are not changing the law overnight, and the changes might not affect every work sector. As it is only the average work hours that they have promised to reduce, not everyone’s. Therefore, there is flexibility in how they achieve their aims.

Alex Lovesey

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