During this pandemic, thousands of people in the UK have accepted a temporary pay cut in exchange for one day less at work.
According to reports, if a four day week becomes the norm, it could save half a million jobs in the public sector alone. Cutting salaries is at best a temporary solution. But rather than this, research argues that the government could partially subsidise a five year plan to allow the UK’s entire workforce to transition permanently to a four day week.
The idea of a four day working week is not new. In 2019, when labour included the four day week as part of its electoral manifesto in 2019, critics said that it could wreck the economy and turn back the clock.
The Confederation of British Industry was against the four-week working idea. But after the Coronavirus lockdown, when the UK economy lies in tatters, to avoid cutting jobs, more employers are turning to the four-day week.
It’s easy to forget that the five day working week is quite a recent development. Only during the Great Recession in the 1930s, the idea of a two-day weekend was applied.
That was applied to save the economy, because the only way to save thousands of jobs was to cut the amount of working hours in the week. Almost after a hundred years, we are in the same situation.
Four-day working week can increase productivity
The big difference is that cutting a day of work to save the economy is no longer a bet because we have proof that a four day week works. During the financial crash of 2008, to reduce mass unemployment, subsiding a reallocation of labour, Germany rolled out the Kurzabeit scheme(Which is a state regulated system of work-sharing unemployment insurance in which civilian employees agree to or are forced to accept a reduction in working time and pay).
To avoid mass unemployment, the government part-paid the salaries of millions of people during the financial downtown. During this pandemic, the government again chose the same scheme.
This scheme was part-inspired by the UK, Specifically Margaret Thatcher’s 1980s Temporary short time working compensation scheme. Which was considered to be among the cheapest and most effective measures brought in to deal with the economic fall in that decade.
In June, a group of cross-party MPs strongly recommended Chancellor Rishi Sunak to discuss the idea of four-day working week. They argued that it would be a powerful tool to recover from this crisis. But, till now, no official policy has been tabled.
It’s still debatable whether the UK government would be willing to pay for a scheme. The government’s job retention scheme ends in October and the cost of this scheme is already estimated to be upwards of £100 billion.
Andrew Barnes, author of the book the 4 Day Week, thinks we should scrap the five day working week entirely.
“Research indicates that you are only productive approximately three hours a day. So the problem is that we use time as a surrogate for understanding productivity seriously”, He said. He also argues that the idea of working week to 32 hours could help companies attract better talent, improve productivity and force bosses to rethink the time spent on useless tasks.