Coalition of MPs and unions urge Alok Sharma to consider shorter working week at climate summit

Exclusive: In letter to Cop26 president, signatories including John McDonnell urge discussion of benefits of four-day week in ‘race to limit the worst effects of climate change’

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 09 June 2021 14:54
<p>Sharma will lead Cop26 in November</p>

Sharma will lead Cop26 in November

A coalition of MPs, including Labour’s John McDonnell, unions, and environmental campaigners are demanding the government ensure a shorter working week is discussed at the UN climate summit hosted by the UK.

In a letter to Alok Sharma, who was appointed earlier this year by Boris Johnson as Cop 26 president, the signatories urge consideration of the “benefits that a shorter working week could offer in the race to limit the worst effects of climate change”.

It comes as the government prepares to host the crucial climate conference in November, with world leaders being asked to come forward with “ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets” that align with UK’s legally binding target of net zero by the middle of the century.

The letter highlights a recent report by Platform London – commissioned by the 4 Day Week campaign – which suggested last month the introduction of a four-day working week with no loss of pay would aid efforts in reducing Britain’s carbon footprint, with a possible reduction of 127 million tonnes per year by 2025.

“This would represent a reduction of 21.3 per cent, more than the entire carbon footprint of Switzerland, and is also equivalent to taking 27 million cars off the road – effectively the entire UK private car fleet,” the coalition of campaigners wrote.

Alongside Mr McDonnell – Labour’s former shadow chancellor – the letter has also been signed by the SNP’s deputy Westminster leader Kirsten Oswald, the Green MP Caroline Lucas, left-wing Labour MPs Clive Lewis and Zarah Sultana, and Plaid MP Ben Lake.

Other names include Len McCluskey, the general secretary of one of the country’s biggest unions, Unite, Dave Ward, the general secretary of the Communication Workers Union (CWU), and the general secretary the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union Mark Serwotka.

“The evidence consistently shows that a reduction in working hours correlates with decreased energy and household consumption, reductions in carbon-intensive commuting, and enables people to engage in more environmentally sustainable behaviours,” they argued.

“We noted and agree with your recent comments that Cop26 marks ‘our last hope’ of preventing climate breakdown and ‘our best chance of building a brighter future’. With such huge consequences at stake, it is crucial that all possible options for bringing emissions down to safe levels are considered.

“As the Platform London report concludes, there is significant potential for reduced working time to help combat the climate crisis, and so we ask you to confirm that you will include a discussion at Cop26 about the potential benefits of a shorter working week and the impact this could have on reducing the UK’s carbon footprint.”

The concept of a shorter working week has gained momentum in recent years, with Labour pledging at the last election to reduce average full-time weekly working hours to 32 across across the economy.

A poll for The Independent found last year that nearly two-thirds of the public and more than half of Conservative voters believed the government should explore the introduction of such a policy in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

And earlier in 2021 it also emerged that Spain’s left-wing government was setting up a limited pilot of a four-day working week, with €50m (£43.1m) financial aid to be provided to companies that cut the working week to 32 hours with no loss of pay.

Joe Ryle, a campaigner with the 4 Day Week Campaign group, said: “If the government is serious about tackling climate change, then a shorter working week has got to be on the table at Cop26. The evidence increasingly shows that a shorter working week would be beneficial for workers and employers and for the environment.”

“To save the climate, the time has come for a four-day working week with no loss of pay,” he added.

Mr Sharma’s office has been contacted for comment by The Independent.

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