Smith hit over four- day week

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The Independent Online
CABINET ministers beset by economic problems fell gleefully upon the Labour leader John Smith yesterday after his agreement with European socialist parties for shorter working hours on the shop-floor.

The European socialist manifesto Mr Smith signed in Brussels calls for a 'substantial' cut in working time to create jobs, possibly to a working week of 35 hours or four days.

David Hunt, Secretary of State for Employment, said: 'These policies represent the politics of despair - John Smith is now admitting openly that socialist policies will never create jobs.' Mr Hunt said the socialist manifesto would 'dramatically damage' productivity and the competitiveness of British industry. The Agriculture Minister, Gillian Shephard, accused the Labour leader of 'doublespeak'.

Mr Smith insisted that the manifesto for next year's European elections, signed by leaders of 19 socialist parties throughout the EC, committed Labour to nothing. A 35-hour week was not on the party's agenda for legislation. Working hours were a matter for negotiation between employers and staff.

He moved swiftly to dampen speculation after saying that cuts in working time suggested in the European manifesto could be included in Labour's national agenda.

The European manifesto sets out proposals for cutting Europe's dole queue of 18 million people. Its contentious passage states: 'Maintaining and creating jobs must be encouraged by reorganisation of work, agreed between the social partners and safeguarding competitiveness.

'These measures must include a substantial cut in working time to ensure a better division of the available work. Several approaches are possible - a working week of 35 hours or four days, leave for training, voluntary part-time work, etc.'

Mr Smith emphasised that the EC jobs crisis required more working-time flexibility. 'No one is proposing European legislation on such matters,' he said and the British tradition was not to legislate on working hours.