Four-day week could help solve Covid economic crisis, say European MPs

Move could also improve people’s mental health and climate crisis, group says

Sam Hancock
Monday 16 November 2020 13:09 GMT
Boris Johnson told to self-isolate after coming into contact with Covid-positive MP

Politicians from the UK, Germany and Spain have written a letter to Boris Johnson, calling for a four-day week to be implemented “now” so countries can begin the process of combatting the economic consequences of Covid-19.

The letter, which was also sent to German chancellor Angela Merkel, Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez and other leaders, said that reducing working hours would improve people’s mental health. It also highlighted the “opportunity” leaders had to rethink working patterns and help to reduce energy usage in a bid 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.

“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.”

The coalition that sent the letter includes: John McDonnel, former shadow chancellor of the exchequer in the UK; 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.

Calls for the UK to rollout a four-day working week have intensified over the past year, particularly in recent months after the coronavirus pandemic saw people’s typical working routines replaced with new working-from-home measures, among others. 

When Mr McDonnell was shadow chancellor last year, he pledged to reduce working hours - while ensuring salaries would remain the same. The plans never came to fruition, though he and the newly formed coalition of leftwing EU politicians are adamant that its implementation could ease the pressure of the coronavirus-effected economy. 

Back in July, think tank Autonomy released a report which had similar findings: it concluded that a four-day week would lead to people spending more money on their day off - kickstarting Britain’s economy post-coronavirus.  

Will Stronge, director of research at Autonomy, said of the findings: “As firms across the economy continue to suffer, bold economic strategies are required to support the economy now and forge a recovery process that prioritises secure and decent work.

“Instead of propping up an already failing economy, the government could act to save jobs and create more desirable working patterns for the future.”

Joe Ryle, a campaigner for the 4 Day Week UK Campaign, told reporters today: “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.”

However, the approach has faced opposition from some business minds and politicians for some time. Tim Worstall, of the Adam Smith Institute think tank, for instance, said last year that if the UK was to implent a four-day week, it was at risk of becoming even “poorer”. 

“We’d like the extra leisure but we don’t want to be poorer by having it,” Mr Worstall said, before adding: “By working less, we produce fewer goods and services that require precious resources to make.”

Mr Johnson is yet to respond to the letter, which adds to the growing pressure the prime minister has been put under in recent months to at least consider a four-day week.

Previous polls suggest around three-quarters of the British public would back the move to introduce reduced working hours across multiple industries. 

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