How many individuals and organisations are advocating the topic of working time reduction in your country and do you form partnerships?
Within the UK, the movement around working time reduction is small but rapidly growing. The UK Green Party has put a four-day week in their most recent political manifesto, and the Labour Party has publicly stated that they are looking into the shorter working week, although nothing has been formalised just yet.
There are a number of trade unions who have internal policies relating to the shorter working week, and the Communication Workers’ Union this year negotiated with Royal Mail to reduce working hours from 39 to 35 hours a week by 2020. The Trades Union Congress has also released a report making the case that the four-day week should be one of the central aims of the union movement in the 21st Century.
The 4 Day Week Campaign is a national UK based campaign and makes the case for a four-day, 32 hour week – or any equivalent variation. The New Economics Foundation are supporters of the campaign, and long-time advocates for shorter hours. The Campaign is also supported by Autonomy who are a think tank focusing on work. Finally, there are a number of small organisations across the UK who have moved to shorter hours in an effort to increase productivity and create better conditions for their workers. This is happening at an increasing rate – with the likes of Pursuit Marketing, Indycube, and Simply Business but a few of the increasing number of organisations experimenting with shorter hours.
What is your group`s actual proposal for the reduction of working time?
Historically, NEF has made the case as to why we should move to shorter hours – focussing on the social, environmental, and economic benefits. We have recently begun exploring the ways in which we get there – including the use of policy implements to create new bank holidays, the use of public sector vanguards, a vast expansion of work-related rights, and the use of generational agreements across society.
Who do you encounter as opponents and what are their counter arguments?
There are the usual voices in business and right wing parties who argue against shorter hours because they think the economy would immediately crash. There are also those on the left who say that the focus should be on low paid and precarious work rather than shorter hours. Finally, there is a pervasive and toxic work-ethic which has become naturalised in the UK, in which overwork is venerated and where the unemployed are seen to be lazy and morally questionable. This culture of overwork is something we must counter.
What is the public opinion on working time reduction in your country? Is it favourable?
It is mixed, but generally there is a huge amount of support for it. There are a few polls demonstrating the huge preference for shorter hours (without a reduction in pay). There are also a growing number of articles, radio, and news programmes about shorter hours. It really does seem to have touched upon the zeitgeist in the UK and could become a central political demand very soon.
What is your next step in the campaign? And what are your short-term, medium-term and long-terms objectives?
We aim to build a stronger network across progressive businesses and trade unions who are campaigning for shorter hours – and build a more solid unified front. We also want to carry out more research into our policy proposals and think about how they would be implemented. Finally we hope to reach out to our European partners as much as possible, to ensure progressive links are kept open and strong in the context of Brexit. There is lots to come this year from NEF as we launch into a number of different projects relating to working time, including a new book, a European newsletter, and modelling work-time policy.