The time has come for a four-day week in Wales

Joe Ryle

Since the Covid pandemic, the idea of moving to a four-day working week has been gathering momentum across the world, and the announcement by the Scottish Government means that the UK is about to see its first ever trials take place.

The trials in Scotland follow similar announcements made by governments in Spain, Ireland and Japan, as well as the “overwhelmingly successful” pilots in Iceland which led to 86% of Iceland’s workforce benefiting from a permanent reduction in their working hours with no loss of pay.

If Scotland and all of these other countries can do it, why can’t Wales?

The major barrier to achieving a permanent four-day, 32 hour working week in Wales is that the Welsh Government doesn’t have the devolved powers to change statutory maximum weekly working hours. Luckily, however, there are other routes to getting there.

The 4 Day Week Campaign is campaigning for the Welsh Government to copy the Scottish Government by launching a similar trial for Wales, offering at least £10 million of financial support to businesses eager to test out a shorter working week. We also back the calls made by IPPR Scotland for any trials that take place to be expanded to include different sectors of the economy. By moving workers in devolved public services to a four-day week, for instance, the think tank Autonomy has shown how Wales and Scotland could pioneer a new ‘gold standard’ set of working conditions.

The pandemic has taught us that the world of work can change very quickly when we want it to: rolling out a four-day week across the Welsh economy is now both desirable and realistic.

No one could have predicted so many workers moving to home working almost overnight, or the expansive furlough scheme put in place by the Chancellor. The world of work has dramatically changed as a result of the pandemic, and it’s in no one’s interests to go back to what we had before.

Even before the pandemic — which has only exacerbated such issues further — workplace burnout, stress and overwork were rife in the UK, with over 18 million sick days taken in 2019/20 as a direct result of work-related stress, depression or anxiety.

If the Covid pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we deserve more time for the things that we value most in life. For many that is family, friends and community.

Under the still dominant, 9–5, 5 day working week we simply don’t have enough time to be able to enjoy our lives to the fullest. And let’s remember, this model of work was created nearly a century ago: we’re long overdue an update.

In the UK, workers put in the longest full-time hours compared to any EU country except for Greece, while having the least productive economy and the fewest number of bank holidays. Furthermore, since the 1980s, working hours have barely reduced at all, despite new waves of technology and automation.

From Microsoft in Japan to many other examples, the four-day week with no loss of pay has been shown to boost productivity so a reduction in working time can be a win-win for both workers and employers. There’s now a wealth of social scientific evidence supporting the fact that working less hours doesn’t have to mean getting less done.

There are so many reasons why we should be looking at the four-day week right now that it’s almost impossible to ignore. When you take into account future automation and new technology, a reduction in working time begins to look more and more inevitable, with a growing need to share jobs more equally across the economy.

Finally, we shouldn’t overlook the crucial role that switching to a four-day week could play in the race to tackle climate change. A report by the environmental organisation Platform London in May 2021, found that moving to a four-day week with no loss of pay could reduce the UK’s carbon footprint by 20% — the equivalent of taking every private car off the road.

The time has surely come for a four-day working week in Wales. It’s now up to the Welsh Government to push forward with trials as soon as they can.

Joe Ryle is Campaign Director of the 4 Day Week Campaign

The Fabian Society in Wales