Why I back a four day week

Work is increasingly consuming every aspect of our lives. From commuting, undertaking long hours and checking emails out of the office – it’s difficult to know when the working week starts and ends. For many people working nine-to-five, five days a week is now as outdated as clocking in and out for lunch. 

Technological advances have changed the nature of the way we work, yet working patterns have remained the largely the same.

150 years ago, people worked ten hours a day with only Sunday off. Last century we moved to a two-day weekend and limits on long hours.

Yet our employment system now means working longer days, for stagnant wages and for larger parts of our adult lives.

In the UK we work longest hours in the EU and clock-up around £32 billion worth of unpaid overtime – all whilst suffering the longest pay squeeze in 200 years.

We do so because there is a conception that working longer hour’s equals greater productivity.

But that is not necessarily the case. Some of the most productive economies in the world work far fewer hours than the average UK worker.

Take Germany for example; UK productivity is 26 percent below that of Germany, and Germans spend far less time at work than we do.

The difference in productivity is such that if German workers finished early on Thursday lunchtime, they would have produced as much as we would have by the end of the day on Friday.

That is because worker productivity relies not just on the amount of hours put in, but on the wellbeing of staff and, as studies show, shorter working weeks can mean fewer sick absences, fewer in-work accidents and mistakes, and higher worker motivation on the job.

More than that, moving to a four-day week is also an opportunity to address systematic gender inequalities in the labour market.

The Women and Equalities Committee that I sit on estimated that a failure to use women’s skills was costing £36bn a year, equal to two percent of GDP.

One of the reasons behind that inequality is that a higher proportion of women work part-time than men – 41 percent of women work part-time, compared to 12 percent of men – and are restricted in their opportunities for career progression as a result.

A shorter working week would make employment more accessible for women by encouraging the creation of more jobs for people who might otherwise have to work part-time.

This change may seem radical to some, but it is a pragmatic solution to a number of problems we face. It has the potential to improve productivity, increase time spent at home with family and close the gender-pay gap.

That is why I will be moving a motion at SNP conference in support of the change and joining the wider campaign for a four-day working week.