A businessperson is sitting at a desk beside an official letter with a stamp with a wooden handle on it.
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European officials call for four-day week in Covid recovery

16 Nov 2020

A group of politicians and campaigners is calling on leaders to consider shorter working hours in the wake of Covid-19.

The four-day work week has long been a topic of conversation, with some companies trialling or shifting to this model, including digital publishing business 3D Issue in Donegal.

Now, a group of politicians, union representatives and campaigners across Europe and further afield is calling for shorter working hours to be introduced as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The group detailed its arguments in an open letter sent to Taoiseach Micheál Martin, US president-elect Joe Biden, UK prime minister Boris Johnson, Spanish leader Pedro Sánchez and German chancellor Angela Merkel.

“Throughout history, shorter working hours have been used during times of crisis and economic recession as a way of sharing work more equally across the economy between the unemployed and the overemployed,” the group wrote. “We believe they should be deployed again now to help deal with the economic fallout of the pandemic.”

Signatories of the letter include UK Labour Party member and former shadow chancellor John McDonnell; chair of Die Linke party in Germany, Katja Kipping; and Len McCluskey, general secretary of the UK’s Unite union.

They wrote that Covid-19 has provided an opportunity to rethink working patterns, with people looking for better work-life balance in particular.

“Despite promises, huge technological advances and automation have not ushered in a new era of more free time.” the letter continued. “For the advancement of civilisation and the good of society, now is the moment to seize the opportunity and move towards shorter working hours with no loss of pay.”

It follows a previous letter signed by a group of UK MPs in June, which said that four-day weeks could be a “powerful tool to recover from this crisis”. The letter also highlighted a number of potential benefits shorter weeks could bring, such as reduced stress, better mental health and greater productivity.

The four-day week in Ireland

The latest later was also signed by Joe O’Connor, director of campaigning at Irish trade union Fórsa and chair of Four Day Week Ireland (4DWI). In September 2019, 4DWI was launched to campaign for a four-day work week, with support from environmentalists, academics, trade unions, businesses and women’s rights organisations.

“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 at last year’s launch.

“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.”

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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