Time for unions to turn attention towards winning a four-day week

A century ago, the weekend was won for us by the trade union movement. To build on this historic win, it’s now time to turn attention towards winning a four-day week.

Since the Covid pandemic, the four-day week with no loss of pay has hit the mainstream and is now seen as an attainable goal for improving people’s lives across the world.

After successful trials of a shorter working week in Iceland – governments in Scotland, Spain and Ireland are all planning four-day week trials this year. There are also serious moves towards a four-day week in Germany, Belgium, Portugal, the USA, the UAE and even Japan, a nation particularly infamous for a culture of long working hours.

In the UK, this month we’ve seen the launch of our new four-day week pilot programme, in partnership with 4 Day Week Global and the think tank Autonomy. Since the launch, we’ve been inundated with media requests and hundreds of companies and organisations expressing their interest in taking part.

Some in the trade union movement dismiss the four-day week as a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn’t work for all sectors of the economy and prefer to call for a more general reduction in working time. It’s certainly a fair point that for some sectors of the economy it’s more complex to implement but ultimately I believe we’re both campaigning for the same thing as the four-day week is just one example of shorter working time.

However, it’s the main framing by which the public understands the need for a better work-life balance and this is important. The polling on a four-day week shows that the idea is more popular than ever before and with the pandemic easing off, now is the perfect time for companies and organisations to look to implement it.

The 4 Day Week Campaign has been at the forefront of building popular support for a shorter working week both in the UK and internationally, and we want to work much more closely with the trade union movement going forwards on organising workers to demand a four-day week in their workplaces.

In the wake of the great resignation, there is an opportunity to make the case to organisations that they should be embracing the four-day week as a way of retaining staff and attracting new talent.

The long-term goal is for the government to adopt a maximum 32 hour working week, as has been called for by Democrat politicians in the US. But the four-day week will only be rolled out across the economy with the trade unions working alongside businesses and the government.

To ensure the benefits of a four-day week are shared by all, the trade union movement must be at the forefront of this campaign so the unanimous vote to campaign for a four-day week at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) conference last September was very encouraging.

With the trade union movement fully behind this, 2022 could be the year that the four-day week really takes off.

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