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Transitioning to 4-day working week in public service could cost at least €3.9 billion, Donohoe says

The government doesn’t appear keen on the prospect of a four-day week in the public service.

Image: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

FOR THE PUBLIC service to transition to a four-day working week it could cost at least €3.9 billion, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe has said.

A four-day week has been introduced by a small number of firms in Ireland, and those in favour of it say working fewer hours improves a worker’s productivity, their commitment and their happiness. 

To undertake such a programme of moving to a four-day week, the government would also need to get its hands on data it doesn’t currently have on the 337,000 full-time equivalent workers in the public service, the minister said in response to a parliamentary question last month.

The public service is made up of the civil service, as well as the education, justice, health and other sectors.

The current total estimated pay bill for the public service in Budget 2020 was €19.6 billion.

In his answer, Donohoe made the assumption that the fifth day of every week would need to be filled by staff when calculating the cost. 

“Assuming that transitioning to a four-day week would result in a need to replace one-fifth of public service working hours, the estimated cost would be €3.9 billion,” he said. 

However, Donohoe said that it’d likely cost the Exchequer more than this given how a range of factors such as the amount of reduced working hours, the effect on frontline services and the impact on agency expenditure would be affected. 

“Given the issues outlined above, it is likely the cost would exceed this,” he said.

A four-day week may not yet be widespread here, but Jeremy Corbyn made it a part of the Labour policy ahead of the UK general election. 

Trade unions in Ireland have already begun calls for employers to switch to a four-day week.

Joe O’Connor, director of campaigning at Fórsa, told TheJournal.ie‘s Ireland 2029 podcast the trade union is calling for a managed, gradual transition to a four-day week. 

“There is no correlation between higher productivity and longer working hours,” he said. “In fact, some of the countries in Europe with some of the shortest working hours have the highest productivity.”

Some Irish companies have already begun trialling a four-day week. Galway recruitment firm ICE Group made headlines with plans to adopt a similar approach with its own staff rosters.

Starting from July 2019, staff began to work four nine-hour days, with the same pay as before, and a three-day weekend.

Its managing director Margaret Cox told the podcast: “When we announced it to staff there was dead silence and we were going, ‘Oh my God, nobody likes this idea’. And I think it was that everybody was just falling off their chair.”

Given Donohoe’s response to the parliamentary question from Rise TD Paul Murphy, it appears very unlikely at this stage that the government would back a four-day week.

Concluding his answer, the minister said the effects of the four-day week could go beyond the cost to the Exchequer.

“Finally, depending on implementation, there could be wider costs to society as a whole from a decision to transition to a 4 day week in the public service, for example increased childcare costs for families to replace an existing school day,” he said. “The potential effects on the broader labour market, economy and national competitiveness would also need to be examined.”

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Sean Murray

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