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COMMENT: We should introduce a four-day working week

Monday, 7th October, 2019 7:59am
COMMENT: We should introduce  a four-day working week

The campaign aims to achieve a better work-life balance. PHOTO: BIGSTOCK

COMMENT: We should introduce  a four-day working week

The campaign aims to achieve a better work-life balance. PHOTO: BIGSTOCK

WHAT if we could all work shorter hours, be more productive and strike a better balance between work and leisure time?

This may sound fanciful, but the benefits for workers and employers of shifting from a five to a four-day week are gaining traction worldwide.

Here in Ireland, a new Four Day Week campaign has just launched. Run by a coalition of the Fórsa trade union, environmentalists, academics, some business leaders and civil society organisations, it is promoting the roll out of a four-day week without reductions in pay.

The campaign argues that reduced working time is better for business, better for workers, better for families and better for the environment. To look at it another way – it’s about challenging the notion that working long hours and being always ‘on’ is good for our overall productivity.

This campaign goes to the very heart of an issue that the Social Democrats care deeply about – and that’s work-life balance.

We recently introduced a new law which extends unpaid leave entitlements for working parents of children aged up to 12. I know first-hand from the scores of working parents and guardians who contacted us that they were often desperate for more time to spend with their children.

 In many cases, the crippling costs of childcare means that it is more economical for parents to take unpaid leave than to have their children in formal childcare settings.

 There’s a good deal of evidence of the gains that a four-day working week can bring in all sectors of the economy - to businesses, the environment and society. 

For example, at the recent Four Day Week campaign launch, Andrew Barnes, the founder of a New Zealand financial advice company, Perpetual Guardian, told us how his 250 staff were working 20 percent fewer hours, but achieving a 30 percent higher rate of productivity. 

 Andrew also explained how his workforce were more focused and experienced less stress and absenteeism. They work four eight-hour days but get paid for five.

One of the few companies to trial the four-day week in Ireland is the Galway-based recruitment company ICE. Margaret Cox, CEO, said staff had welcomed a shift to a four-day week, which had also been good for her business.

One of her teams has a slogan for their four working days: focused, energised and happy.

Of course, it may not be suitable for every industry or all workers. But this is a conversation that the Social Democrats think is worth pursuing for so many reasons, chief among them being the recognition that people are far more than simply economic units slogging incessantly in a rat-race and wondering if this is as good as it gets.

That’s why we are calling on the Government to make this option available on a trial basis so that its impacts can be fully assessed.

Róisín Shortall is a Social Democrats TD for Dublin North West.

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