Four days a week?

Alison Johnstone welcomes growing support for the Green policy of a four day working week.

The notion of a four-day week was previously dismissed as something which didn’t fit with the traditional views about work ethic, but as we look forward to whatever the new normal looks like after the pandemic, it looks increasingly likely that this is going to happen in some form.

In laying out the Scottish Government’s four-phase ‘route map’ out of lockdown, Nicola Sturgeon suggested that a four-day week might be necessary so that people can stagger their days and maintain social distancing. With kids expected to be schooled at home part-time, there might be no other way

Of course, a four-day working week was in the Scottish Green manifesto, though none of us welcome the circumstances in which we find it coming about. It’s an idea which has already been tried elsewhere. Finland, for example, announced plans to introduce a four-day week at the start of the year.

Suggestions of a four-day working week have been dismissed as ‘utopian’ by traditionalists who think every last scrap of time should be extracted from every employee, but there’s plenty of evidence that reducing working hours actually increases productivity, provided workers are still paid in full for what they received over five days.

Companies around the world that have trialled reduced hours have found increased productivity by as much as a third.

As two firms that have tried it in Scotland told the Edinburgh Evening News last week, reduced hours have allowed for more discipline in the time you are working and time to reflect and be creative at other times. It also gives parents more time with their children.

What’s more, if more people have a three-day weekend, there is greater time and opportunity to travel within Scotland and boost domestic tourism when it is most needed.

The other important consideration is that the pandemic may be having a devastating impact on employment levels.

Researchers at the IPPR think tank suggest up to a third of Scotland’s working population may be at risk of losing their jobs as a result of this crisis, especially in the sectors which have lost almost all revenue such as retail, wholesale, the motor trade, construction and hospitality.

In a report for the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Post-Covid-19 Futures Commission, Scotland’s former chief scientist Dame Anne Glover has suggested a shortened working week may be one idea to bolster employment, because it may make more jobs available.

But what is essential is that these are not paid on a part time basis. If switching to a four-day week is to work, people need assurances that they will not be penalised for working fewer hours.

This is about job security too. We can’t return to the kind of insecure working conditions which left so many people in a precarious position when this crisis hit. Temporary wages have dipped for the first time since 2013, and zero-hours contracts leave people desperate for as many working hours as possible.

People are understandably very worried about their futures at the moment. That’s why they need the security of a guaranteed basic income and secure jobs working four days a week.

The Greens used to get dismissed for these kind of ideas, but their time has come. After all, it was once called ‘utopian’ to suggest people shouldn’t work Saturdays.