Posted: Mon 14th Feb 2022

Calls for Welsh Government to launch four day working week trial

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Monday, Feb 14th, 2022

The Future Generations Commissioner for Wales has called on the Welsh Government to launch a shorter working week trial.

Sophie Howe, whose role is to protect the interests of future generations under Wales’ Well-being of Future Generations Act, said the Welsh public sector could lead the way with a pioneering trial, with people re-evaluating their life priorities following the pandemic.  

A new report by the Commissioner and think-tank, Autonomy, shows major appetite for a working time reduction in Wales, with the move also creating potentially 38,000 jobs in Wales. 

It found:  

  • 76% of the Welsh public would support the sharing out of work so that everyone can have a good work-life balance.   
  • 62% of the Welsh public would ideally choose to work a four day working week or less.   
  • 57% of the Welsh public would support the Welsh government piloting a scheme to move towards a four day working week.   

The new report, A Future Fit for Wales: The roadmap to a shorter working week, advocates trialling shorter working hours in parts of the public sector, encouraging and supporting private sector firms to transition to shorter hours.

This report advocates a three-pronged strategy to achieve it this includes; a trial shorter working hours in parts of the public sector; encourage and support private sector firms to transition to shorter hours; collaborate with and empower trade unions so they can negotiate shorter hours across diverse workplaces.

Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner for Wales

Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, said: “It’s clear that following the pandemic, people across Wales are re-evaluating their priorities in life and looking for a healthier work-life balance.

“The escalating demands of caring for loved-ones due to an ageing population and an increase in mental health issues exacerbated by working long hours are just some of the factors which make a shorter working week more appealing.

“A shorter working week can result in increased productivity which will be of huge benefit to employers for  a happier, healthier workforce.

The working week has not changed for more than 100 years, and now seems the perfect opportunity for the Welsh Government to commit to a pioneering trial and build evidence for greater change across Wales.”

Will Stronge, co-director of Autonomy said: “All the evidence suggests that a shorter working week with no loss of pay would be a win-win for both workers and employers in Wales.

“Countries across the world including Scotland and Ireland have already launched four-day week trials and a radical Welsh Government should be leading the way on this too.

“Moving to a four-day week would boost productivity and workers’ well-being, and create tens of thousands of new jobs in the Welsh public sector. The potential benefits are too large to ignore.”

A four-day working week pilot has already been trialled in Iceland, where it was deemed an “overwhelming success”.

Alyn and Deeside MPS Jack Sargeant

In his Deeside.com column, Alyn and Deeside MS outlined the benefits of a shorter working week.

He’s been interested in a shorter working week “for a while and followed with interest the negotiations at Airbus where Unite the union members backed a shorter working week to save jobs.” He said.

The Iceland trial, in which workers were paid the same amount for shorter hours, took place between 2015 and 2019.

Researchers have shown that Productivity remained the same or in some cases actually improved.

The trials run by Reykjavík City Council and the national government involved 2,500 workers, which amounts roughly 1% of Iceland’s working population.

A variety of workplaces took part, including preschools, offices, social service providers, and hospitals.

Following the trials, unions began to renegotiate working patterns, and now 86% of Iceland’s workforce have either moved to shorter hours for the same pay, or will gain the right to, the researchers said.

Workers reported feeling less stressed and at risk of burnout and said their health and work-life balance had improved immensely.

“The pandemic has given us an opportunity to change the way we set up society for people in the future – let’s take it.” 

Staff at Slunks hair salon in Cardiff have been working a four-day week without a reduction in pay, since the beginning of the pandemic – and productivity, well-being and turnover have improved, says its co-owner. 

Joel McCauley believes passionately that the 38 hours working norm is having a detrimental impact on our mental health, and supports a trial that he says would see Wales lead on the move to a ‘healthier way of working’. 

 

Press shot of 3 hair stylists in Slunks hair salon
Staff members of Slunks hair salon in Cardiff where they’ve been working a four-day week since the start of the pandemic

Joel left school aged 12 and worked in salons for most of his adult life, where he experienced high stress levels and an ‘unhealthy’ work-life balance in an industry where he says anxiety is ‘rampant’. 

“Covid-19 has been incredibly stressful for industries like hairdressing, but it’s highlighted some of the issues that have always existed – you can be in a perpetual cycle, work, food, sleep,” said Joel, 38, who lives in Newport.”

“People don’t always realise but working in hairdressing can be extremely draining. I’ve worked in salons where we were worked like dogs.” 

“I’ve seen young people in the industry turn to drugs and alcohol because they’re exhausted and they don’t have the time to make changes to their life.”  

“Six-day weeks, back-to-back clients, moving from job-to-job because they have no time to think or plan what you’re going to do next. Anxiety is rampant in the industry and I’ve suffered with anxiety and depression and it can mainly be attributed to the amount of hours I was working. I got burn-out.” 

When Joel opened his own salon in 2011, he wanted to do things differently and set out a long-term plan to move to a shorter working week, and this was accelerated by the pandemic. 

From March 2020, all full-time members of staff swapped to a four-day week with no reduction in pay.

Part-time members of the team have had pay rises and nobody has had a decrease in pay and the only team members not working four days are apprentices, who will be offered the benefit once they qualify. 

“The salon is happier,” said Joel. 

“This is simply a better, healthier way of working. I genuinely think we aren’t meant to work full-time – how many people do you know who are constantly over-worked and unhappy about it?” 

“When you have more time, you can think about life in a different way.”

“At work, you’re likely to have more energy and fewer non-productive days. Outside work, you can be a better person, a better parent, a better member of the community.”

“Society isn’t working. The current system is broken and based on old-fashioned capitalism.” 

Joel says he finds it frustrating that other workplaces are slow to change and encourages others to join a movement for the sake of future generations of employees. 

He said: “Thanks to a four-day week, I feel better, staff feel better – we’re all working better. We’re making more money at busier times, customers love it because they know we appreciate our staff.” 

“The pandemic has given us an opportunity to do things differently – to change the way we treat people, young people especially, and the way we set up society for people in the future – let’s take it.” 

Press shot of young blonde woman holding a hair dryer
Chelsea Thompson, Salon Manager of Slunks says since starting the four-day week staff have said they’re happier.

Chelsea Thompson, salon manager, 28, Tonyrefail, agrees: “I live a 45-minute drive away from work, so I’m commuting less and when I’m in work, I’m definitely more focused.”

“Since we’ve started the four-day week, everyone says they’re happier. People feel well-rested, mentally prepared.” 

“That extra day is for me. I go for long walks, listen to a podcast, see friends who don’t have weekends off.” 

“It’s sad that society has got to the point where people feel like they’re working to live.”

“Time is precious – I really hope other workplaces follow and we can all start leading a more balanced life.”

Bradley Ashton, a graduate stylist from Cardiff who has worked there for more than two years, said: “Having the extra day off helps me stay motivated in my personal life and with fitness, which really helps my mental state.”

“I’m more motivated at work and and I enjoy work a lot more. I’m not so tired and stressed which makes me feel better and I feel really positive at work, and makes me want to do more.

“I have a Sunday and Monday off, then I alternate my Tuesday and Wednesday off. I treat my Sunday and Monday days off as my weekend, then I use the other day to get jobs done.

“It’s really helped me become a much calmer person and I’m a lot happier.” 

“I’m not as stressed as I used to be. I’m all round happier in myself and better mentally.”

“I definitely think my family and my partner have seen a big change in my mood since I’ve been on a four day work week.” 

 

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