Friday, October 13, 2017

Time for a four day week

Trade unions have a long and proud history of fighting for shorter working hours.The reason we have a weekend and an eight hour day, rather than working 69 hour weeks, is because of the struggles of organised labour throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Germany’s biggest union is pushing for a 28-hour working week. The union argues that workers should get a fair share in the benefits of Germany’s growing economy in the form of better pay and an improved work-life balance.

It is about time shortening the working week came back on the agenda. We need a shorter working week today more than ever. Since the 1970s, work-time has barely reduced, despite an increase in productivity by a factor of 2.5 .Within the UK, unions are also fighting for reduced working hours. Royal Mail workers represented by the CWU recently balloted for strike action, with reduced working hours one of their central demands. The RMT also have a long-standing policy for a 32 hour four day week, and Aslef have just suspended a planned tube strike over the four day week after making headway with negotiations. 

We are currently in a crisis of over-work: in 2015/16 stress accounted for 37 per cent of all work related ill health cases and 45 per cent of all working days lost due to ill health. Work-related stress is often a major cause of family breakdown, drug and alcohol addiction, and heightens a series of other mental health issues.

At the same time we are experiencing a crisis of under-employment - whereby people are in work but do not get the hours they need for a decent standard of living. The gap between those who report themselves as overworked, and those who report themselves as underworked is growing and at its widest point since before 2008. In a situation in which there are people with too much work living alongside those with too little, the logical solution is to redistribute what good work is available.

We are also faced with looming crisis around the future of work. It is estimated that by 2020, over 30 per cent of jobs in the UK will become automated. As more jobs are done by machines, we are likely to face the prospect of widespread unemployment and low wages. It is argued that a shorter working week will help share what work is still available and distribute evenly the benefits of automation.


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