It’s an inconvenient truth for campaigners trying to persuade Boris Johnson’s government to explore a four-day working week that the idea was first proposed by Jeremy Corbyn. During the 2019 General Election, Conservative MPs lined up to attack what became one of Labour’s flagship policies. With the election in full swing, one Tory MP went as far as saying it would ‘wreck the economy’.
But with the general election and Jeremy Corbyn now a distant memory, the Conservative Party should look at the idea in a different light and seriously examine its merits as a way to build up the economy post Covid-19. With an unemployment crisis on the horizon, a four-day week makes a lot of sense and the Conservative Party would be foolish to ignore it.
Shorter working times has been used throughout history as a way of responding to economic crises. According to the New Economics Foundation, ‘the average full-time week in the UK fell steadily from 46 hours in 1946 to 40 hours by 1979.’ Since the 1980s this trend has not continued.
Last weekend a group of cross-party MPs, campaigners, academics and economists penned a letter to the Chancellor Rishi Sunak urging the government to consider exploring shorter working times for the UK, including a four-day working week, as one route out of the coronavirus pandemic.
They argued that ‘a four-day week presents itself as one of the best options for fundamentally restructuring the economy so that work is shared more equally.’
Since the letter was published, an Early Day Motion has been tabled in Parliament which is already beginning to show the depth of cross-party support for the idea. However, there’s a glaring lack of support from Conservative MPs.
The 4 Day Week Campaign’s preferred option is for a four-day, 30-hour working week (or any equivalent variation) with no reduction in pay for employees (except for the highest earners who can clearly afford to take the option).