Why a four day working week is the way forward for Wales
Peredur Owen Griffiths
When people ever ask me the reasons why I decided to enter politics, the answer that comes most naturally is a simple one – “to make people’s lives better.”
It is also a golden thread that has also traditionally run through the policies and interventions in the history of Plaid Cymru. It was certainly a motivating factor behind the co-operation agreement between us and the Labour Government.
So when I got the chance to attend a conference about the four-day week, it was an opportunity I grasped with both hands.
A reduced working week (not to be confused with a condensed working week) is something I was already familiar with having read ‘The 4 Day Week: How the Flexible Work Revolution Can Increase Productivity, Profitability and Wellbeing, and Create a Sustainable Future’.
In the Senedd, my Plaid Cymru colleague and Economy spokesperson Luke Fletcher has also done some excellent work. Last September, he led a debate in our National Parliament which extolled the virtues and merits of a reduced working week. As part of our motion, we called for a pilot to run in Wales to examine the benefits that it could deliver, not just for workers but for the economy and the environment as well.
But while Labour was supportive of much of our motion, the call for a domestic pilot was a step too far for them. Undeterred, there are now moves to formalise Plaid Cymru’s calls within the Senedd on a four-day week with new party policy.
Having had a glimpse of the four-day working week concept, the conference in the historic city of Valencia at the end of May was a chance to learn more about what other countries are doing, taking heed of the potential pitfalls, with a view to bringing those lessons back home.
The reason why Valencia was such an ideal location for such a conference is because the regional government there are subsidising an initiative for companies to put workers on a four-day week. The regional government also met the cost of the conference for delegates.
What I learned over the course of two packed days – including participating in a panel discussion on stage with MSP Fiona Hyslop, Neasa Hourigan of the Irish Green Party and John McDonnell MP – was overwhelmingly positive and encouraging. The conference featured voices from all over the world, including Iceland where a comprehensive and successful pilot into the four-day week has been held.
We heard how productivity remained the same or improved across the majority of workplaces during a four-year trial period between 2015 and 2019. A large majority of the workforce in Iceland now work shorter hours or have been given the right to shorten their hours. With the broad topic of community in my portfolio for Plaid Cymru, I was encouraged to hear the improvements that were delivered for well-being, work-life balance and volunteering.
Employment is all too often framed and defined around time spent at work, rather than outcomes. This has been detrimental to quality of life over generations.
During my contribution to the panel discussion, I touched on the immense economic and environmental benefits of a four day week. Research points to a 4 day week creating in the Welsh public sector more than 26,000 full-time and 10,000 part time jobs.
Numerous studies have also shown that productivity increases for workers during a 4 day week. There are also huge environmental benefits to be had. On a UK level, it has been estimated that a four-day week could reduce the UK carbon footprint by 127 million tonnes per year. This is the equivalent of taking 27 million cars off the road.
The eminent economist and sociologist at Boston College, Juliet Schor, provided a particularly interesting talk on the subject. She has forensically analysed data from all of the pilots conducted globally on the four-day week and the results have so far been positive.
New Zealander Andrew Barnes, who has also been one of the leading lights of the four-day week, also spoke about the practicalities and legislative challenges of the four-day week. His conclusion can be summarised by any potential obstacles not being insurmountable and the benefits being worth much more than the trouble.
The overall mood of the conference concentrated on the art of the possible and it was an encouraging, uplifting and inspiring two days.
As for the future, I hope to see Wales joining some of our friends in Europe in embracing the four-day week with a pilot of our own. This matter is the subject of a Senedd petition which is due to come before the petitions committee at the end of the month.
As mentioned earlier, there are also plans to incorporate the four-day week within Plaid Cymru policy.
It may be the case that the Labour Government have so far resisted the call for a pilot within Wales on a four-day week but, as recent events have shown, they can come round to Plaid Cymru’s way of thinking… eventually.
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