A major new report from the TUC  suggests that the working week could be shortened to just four days, given the economic benefits that will flow from new technologies.
Entitled A Future That Works for Working People, the report – published today – says: “New technologies have the potential to make us all richer. The government estimates that robotics and autonomous systems could boost UK output by over £200 billion … But the rewards from new tech are currently concentrated on a few Silicon Valley billionaires, while working people in the UK experience the longest pay squeeze since Napoleonic times.”
It adds: “A shorter working week, and more control over our time, has long been the promised payoff from technological progress. JM Keynes, the economist who shaped post-war government policy, suggested we’d be working 15 hours a week by now. In the last century, trade unions won the eight-hour day, the normalisation of the weekend, and limits on excessive working hours.
“Today, we found that if they could choose, a four-day working week would be most people’s preference. But instead, new technology is threatening to intensify working lives.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady stressed: “Workers are having a hard time. They’ve suffered the longest pay squeeze in 200 years. Millions of people are stuck in insecure jobs and stressed out. And too many employers are using tech to treat workers unfairly. Bosses and shareholders must not be allowed to hoover up all the gains from new tech for themselves. Working people deserve their fair share – and that means using the gains from new tech to raise pay and allow more time with their families.”
She added: “When the TUC’s first Congress took place 150 years ago, people worked ten hours a day with only Sunday off. But in the last century we won a two-day weekend and limits on long hours. This century, we must raise our sights to reduce working time again. If productivity gains from new technology are even half as good as promised, then the country can afford to make working lives better.”
A four-day week certainly sounds like an appealing prospect. But would it work in practice?
The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “There are two sides to this issue. If, in present times, we can achieve five days’ worth of productivity and output in just four days, then perhaps there would be a compelling argument to introduce a four-day week across the board and, in parallel, increase leisure time. People with enhanced leisure time and disposable income would naturally boost the leisure industries, because they would have more time for days out and going to restaurants, and so on.
“If, however, the four-day week means that people will only be able to access four days’ pay, then that will disproportionately disadvantage those who are on minimum wage. But to put on the agenda the notion of increased leisure time – which, as the TUC points out, is the broad trend over the decades – is hugely valuable. How we are going to use that leisure time is a question for society, and it’s important to be talking about it now.”
For further thoughts on time management, check out these learning resources from the Institute
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