In 2008, amid the shock of the banking collapse and widespread recession, the unlikely state of Utah in the US came up with a radical plan. At only a month’s notice, 18,000 of the state’s 25,000 workforce were put on a four-day week. Wellbeing indicators rocketed, carbon emissions were cut by 14% and huge savings were made.
Now, here in Scotland, maybe we should do the same?
Time for Life is the latest paper from the Jimmy Reid Foundation authored by Isobel Lindsay, Pat Kane, Ben Wray and Gillian Wales. It’s a startling addition to the independence debate pulling everyone out of their centre of gravity away from binary thinking and into a much deeper pool altogether. Two things are immediately striking. Before the JRF there was such a dearth of think-tanks and research going on it’s incredible. We were in a stagnant pond. Secondly, contemporary party politics doesn’t and can’t do thinking like this. Now we’re moving.
The problem of unemployment is frequently addressed, far less so the problem of bad employment, useless employment or low-paid employment. These ideas begin to address some of these issues but also the deep psychological scars of stress from over-employment and the massive inefficiency of ‘presenteeism’ (ie lots of people ‘in work but doing very little).
Now is the time for fresh thinking:
In Scotland, we are currently engaged in a debate about our nation’s future and how best to allocate our resources, both human and natural. It is only right, therefore, that the issue of time is put back on the agenda, and that an assessment of whether it can be useful in solving numerous problems – societal, environmental, economic, psychological – is made.
The groundbreaking paper recommends phasing in a standard 30-hour working week over 10 years in the event of Scottish independence, with a legal limit to ensure no one works more than 35 hours a week. It’s an idea which has been trialled in Utah in the US and in France where a 35 hour week is enshrined in law and in the Netherlands where ‘Daddy Days’ are a sign of a deeply-embedded commitment to more gender balance in parenting.
The radical redistribution of work would begin with the Scottish Government imposing a shorter week on public-sector staff to show it was feasible.
Time of Life was released in the same week that a new YouGov survey finds that most people (57%) would support introducing a four day working week in the UK. 28% would oppose and 15% don’t know (details here).
This thinking builds on earlier work by Kane on the Play Ethic and fits in the new landscape of post-crash economics, precarity, the stress epidemic and the damaging cultural narrative of ‘scroungers’ and work-shy.
The report could have huge implications for gender relations, parenting, better family life and social creativity, and, as NEF pointed out in 2012, the environment too (see their earlier report Gardening Leave).
The authors write:
In this report we show that there is the capacity through reducing working hours towards 30 hours a week to create sufficient new jobs to achieve full employment. This can be achieved through a ten-year transition process. There are many steps that can help this process:
• Reduce the general cost of living
• Gradual transition for those approaching retirement age
• Create a high-pay economy
• Consider wage ratios
• Tie pay to value through a pay commission
• Prevent employer discrimination against workers who desire shorter schedules
• Greater control through industrial democracy
• Improve and extend government-funded lifelong learning
• Getting more women into the workforce
• A phased transition that is public-sector led and is assessed by government at regular intervals to evaluate effectiveness
• Accepting (for a period) that there will be exemptions and contingencies
• Using school hours contracts/flexible working benefits
The report outlines the many benefits that come from changing a pattern of long-hours for low-
pay for Scottish workers, including the economic boost that would come from a widespread three-day weekend.
The paper maps out a possible ten-year transition to a four-day working week, and the Foundation is now calling on the Scottish Government to consider the change in the event of a Yes vote in the independence referendum.
The post-crash world economy needs to develop a whole new set of measurements and principles in which to evaluate economic success if we are to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again.
Working time should be central to this debate and Scotland could lead the way in pioneering a 30-hour, four day week.
Critics will warn, rightly, that in times of austerity such measures must not be used as an excuse to downsize or rollback services, make key public staff redundant or enshrine permanent downsizing in public service expectations. Instead it should be about sharing the burden of work and the scope for creativity and non-commodified leisure. At its best it should be the gateway to a new dispensation that can be encoded as: being more; buying less; creating more; consuming less.
The report, titled Time for Life, can be read in full on the Jimmy Reid Foundation website.