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'It's like having a bank holiday every week': Trade union calls for four-day work week

A number of organisations have come together in support of the idea, saying productivity levels could be maintained or even increased.

shutterstock_284577752 File photo Source: Shutterstock/FotoAndalucia

A FOUR-DAY work week could maintain or increase productivity levels for many businesses in Ireland, Fórsa has said.

The trade union, which has 80,000 members across the public sector, today launched the Irish leg of an international coalition which will campaign for a four-day working week.

Joe O’Connor, Fórsa’s Director of Campaigning, said a four-day work week is a necessary response to automation and “an alternative to the ‘race to the bottom’ gig economy”.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie at the launch, O’Connor said: “We’re pushing for this because we believe there’s a need for a gradual, steady and managed transition to a shorter working week for all workers in the public and private sector.”

O’Connor said “productivity is at a minimum being maintained and in many cases being enhanced” at businesses which have adopted a four-day week.

“We believe that we should be talking about productivity rather than time and in particular when you look at the technological changes that are coming down the line – the fourth industrial revolution of artificial intelligence, automation – it’s vitally important that the benefits from that are shared with workers.”

O’Connor said he believes trade unions can achieve the four-day work week in the same way they previously won the five-day work week and eight-hour work day.

“We’re not talking here about a ‘one size fits all’ solution, we’re not saying that everybody will work a traditional four-day week in the same way as everyone doesn’t work a traditional five-day week, nine to five, at the moment.

“We’re saying that this should be the new standard work arrangement, the new benchmark across the economy, and of course within that there will be flexibility for both employers and employees.”

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 help families in terms of arranging childcare. 

The four-day work week campaign is supported by the National Women’s Council of Ireland, Friends of the Earth Ireland and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions among others.

‘Bank holiday every week’

ICE, a Galway-based recruitment firm, with 54 full-time employees, introduced a four-day week earlier this year. Margaret Cox, ICE’s CEO, said a four-day work week may not be feasible for some companies but that it could work for many firms.

“I understand it’s not for everyone, there are different businesses and sometimes it’s easier if you’re a smaller business and maybe more dynamic than if you’re a bigger business,” Cox told TheJournal.ie.

We’re a commercial business so people understand we’ve got to do the job, and once we do that it’s fine … People are motivated, they’re happier, we’ve got better morale, and we’re maintaining out productivity.

“It’s like we have a bank holiday every single week, we have a three-day weekend and a four-day week,” Cox said, noting that employees work four nine-hour days and don’t work either on Monday or Friday.

IMG_3174 Margaret Cox, CEO of ICE Source: Órla Ryan

“We know ourselves that on a bank holiday weekend we get our work done in the four days, that’s just the way it works out.”

ICE took inspiration from Perpetual Guardian, a financial advice company based in Zealand, when introducing a four-day work week.

100-80-100 rule 

Andrew Barnes, founder of Perpetual Guardian, said the company started trialling the four-day week about two years ago. Two-thirds of the company’s 250 staff members have now signed up.

Barnes said he was inspired to look into the idea after reading an article which stated that many employees are only productive for about two and a half hours per day. His company has brought in what it calls the 100-80-100 rule – 100% pay, 80% time, 100% productivity.

“What you’re really looking for are changes of behaviour of people in the office, less time on social media, less time looking at emails, probably less time chatting as well,” Barnes said.

He told TheJournal.ie one the obstacles to bringing in a four-day week is employees’ fears that may be paid less.

I think one of the barriers to the introduction of a four-day week anywhere is that workers are worried that this is the thin edge of the wedge, ‘If I work reduced hours, I’m going to get reduced pay.’

Barnes said the topic should instead be framed as “a conversation about productivity” and that if employees do the work expected of them, it shouldn’t matter if it’s done over five, four or even three days.

IMG_3177 Andrew Barnes, founder of Perpetual Guardian Source: Órla Ryan

Barnes and Cox are both advising other businesses about how to bring in a four-day work week.

Barnes said a potential wider rollout of the idea will be “a slow burn”, stating: “What we’re trying to do here is start a really good, informed conversation between business, unions, government because you’ve got to do this in a collegiate fashion.”

The idea of introducing a four-day work week was explored in a recent episode of the Ireland 2029 podcast series.

The episode noted that a four-day work week would not work in every industry. Some sectors are more flexible than others, particularly those which are client-based, but others, like healthcare, the media or the gardaí, require staff to work over long periods and at unsociable hours.

Meanwhile, John Barry of Management Support Services and a council member of the Irish SME Association, argued that trying to do a 40-hour week in four days could potentially see employers having to pay more overtime to their workers.

“If you’re going to do 40 hours in four days and people start working a fifth day … people can get in the habit of overtime regularly, which can creep up,” he said.

You can listen to the full episode here:


Source: Ireland 2029/SoundCloud

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Órla Ryan

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