Senedd committee backs four-day working week trial in Wales

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A four-day working week trial should be launched in Wales with the aim of boosting productivity, wellbeing and equality, a Welsh parliament committee has said.

The Senedd’s petitions committee is calling for the Labour-controlled government to conduct pilots in the devolved public sector under which employees would work four-day weeks for the same wages.

“It is a bold proposal but no more bold than those campaigners who fought for a five-day week, paid holiday and sick pay which we now take for granted,” said Jack Sargeant, the chair of the petitions committee.

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“People in Wales work some of the longest hours in Europe. Despite these long hours the UK lags behind on productivity. Experiments [in four-day weeks] are being conducted around the world – but we will have a much stronger knowledge of how they fit our circumstances here in Wales if we conduct our own trials.

“The Covid pandemic led to a massive change in the way many people work, and forced many to reconsider what was important in terms of their quality of life. The increasing use of automation is another driver of change, as is the climate crisis.”

The committee looked at the issue after the social entrepreneur Mark Hooper from Barry, south Wales, organised a petition calling for trials to be launched. He said: “Our lives are too often dominated by how we earn our living and that makes us more ill, sadder and ultimately less productive.”

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Among those who gave evidence to the committee was Shavanah Taj, the general secretary of the Wales TUC, who pointed out that childcare responsibilities are more easily shared in a four-day week, and that childcare costs would be reduced. However, she also expressed concern that women make up the majority of the workforce in sectors such as hospitality and education in which it might be harder to work a four-day week.

Abigail Marks, a professor of the future of work at Newcastle University, said the intensity of work needed to be reduced before cutting working hours. “If people can’t manage their work in a five-day week because of overwork, then they’re not going to manage it in a four-day week,” she said.

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Countries including Iceland, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, Belgium, New Zealand and Japan have made moves towards trialling or introducing new working patterns.

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One hundred UK companies have signed up for a permanent four-day working week for all their employees with no loss of pay.

During its inquiry, the committee also considered the arguments against. A report published by the committee acknowledges that some sectors would struggle to operate within a four-day structure – such as education, health, hospitality and personal service – and that reducing hours could exacerbate stress-related challenges for some workers who already feel overworked.

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One of the committee members, the Conservative Joel James, said he was “fundamentally opposed” to a four-day working week. He said: “I believe it is not something that could be introduced in all sectors, and would lead to division and injustice in society. Even if a demonstration in the public sector were successful, it would not necessarily provide any meaningful information for small businesses or for care providers already challenged by a shortage of staff.”

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