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'We should be actively looking at it': Calls for government to assess impact of four-day work week

Supporters of a four-day week say companies could have the same levels of productivity while helping employees’ work-life balance.

File photo. Office workplace.
File photo. Office workplace.
Image: Shutterstock/G-Stock Studio

THE GOVERNMENT IS facing calls to conduct research into the impact of implementing a four-day working week and what it might look like.

The calls come as many workers continue to deal with the impact of working from home and more flexible working arrangements during the pandemic. 

Supporters of bringing in the four-day week say that such a system could maintain or even increase productivity for many businesses in Ireland. Some firms here have already made a move to a four-day week

Looking into the possibility of bringing in a four-day week was also a part of UK Labour’s pledges before the last general election in December. 

And, last month, New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern suggested employers should consider a four-day week and other flexible working options as a way to boost local tourism and help employees address work/life balance issues. 

As well as productivity, proponents of the four-day work week have argued that it could have a positive impact on the environment as it would likely result in less pollution from commuting, as well as helping families with childcare. 

In a parliamentary question in late May, both Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and Minister for Business Heather Humphreys said their departments had done no research into the topic. 

Previously, Donohoe said that moving to a four-day week in the civil service could cost at least €3.9 billion. In his answer, however, he had made the assumption that the fifth day of every week would need to be filled by staff when calculating the cost. 

In response to Social Democrat TD Cian O’Callaghan last month, Donohoe said his department had not conducted any research on the impact of moving to a four-day work week.

The minister added that while flexi-time was available across his department, this had been suspended in April due to the unprecedented impact of Covid-19 on normal working arrangements. 

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Minister Humphreys said: “While my department has not conducted research on the impact of moving to a four-day week, there is a large volume of work underway on the topic of flexible working across government departments.

“This includes the development of guidance for employers on family-friendly working options, the extension of unpaid Parental Leave, and a national consultation on a variety of flexible working options which will inform the development of a national flexible working policy in 2020.”

O’Callaghan told TheJournal.ie it was disappointing to see that the government hadn’t yet done any research into the possibility of moving to a four-day working week.

He said: “There is growing evidence that the introduction of a four-day working week in certain sectors of the economy makes sense.

When productivity and wage levels can be maintained the option of a four-day working week should be considered. This is something that we should be actively looking at in Ireland.

About the author:

Sean Murray

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