Time has come for four-day week, say European politicians

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The UK, Germany, Spain and other countries should adopt a four-day week to help their economies recover from the coronavirus pandemic, according to former shadow chancellor John McDonnell and group of leftwing politicians and union officials from across Europe.

A four-day week would help deal with the economic fallout of the pandemic, according to a letter sent to Boris Johnson, German chancellor Angela Merkel, Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez and other leaders.

The coalition that sent the letter also includes: Katja Kipping, the chair of Die Linke party in Germany; Íñigo Errejón, an MP in Spain’s Más País party; Green party MP Caroline Lucas; and Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite union.

The letter highlighted the long history of workers agreeing to shorter hours in order to save jobs, but also the “opportunity” to rethink working patterns and help to reduce energy usage, potentially helping to tackle the climate crisis.

“Throughout history, shorter working hours have been used during times of crisis and economic recession as a way of sharing work more equally across the economy between the unemployed and the overemployed,” the group wrote.

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“For the advancement of civilisation and the good society, now is the moment to seize the opportunity and move towards shorter working hours with no loss of pay.”

Proposals to institute a four-day week have garnered increasing interest in recent years thanks to a small but growing number of companies who argue it has increased productivity while improving workers’ mental health. The Labour party pledged to cut working hours when McDonnell was shadow chancellor.

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However, it also faces stiff opposition from some business groups and right-of-centre politicians. The Confederation of British Industry, Britain’s biggest business lobby group, in 2019 argued that formalising a four-day week would be a “step in the wrong direction”. Some right-of-centre economists believe working less would harm living standards.

Campaigners for the four-day week highlighted that the average number of hours worked by people across the economy has not reduced significantly since the 1980s, despite the development of labour-saving technologies such as personal computers that should in theory free more time for leisure.

Joe Ryle, a campaigner for the 4 Day Week UK Campaign, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown the world of work up in the air, offering a much-needed opportunity to rethink how we work.

“The four-day working week has hit the mainstream and it’s now up to governments, business leaders and trade unions to work together to make it a reality.”