Like sick pay or parental leave, our Monday to Friday working routine is often seen as nothing less than a fact of life.
It’s actually a historical achievement, hard won by workers and trade unionists of centuries past, unwilling to accept their mahi eating up such a large chunk of their lives.
The pandemic has brought their struggle into the present. Whether you’re stuck in an out-of-hours Zoom meeting, or refusing to risk infection to maintain company profits, Covid-19 has prompted the question: do we need to be here?
That could be why in Aotearoa, where the pandemic is still in its relative infancy, we’ve been slow to champion a four-day week – an idea that’s gaining momentum across the globe.
In February, the Belgian coalition Government announced workers will be able to opt into a four-day week under a series of labour market reforms.
Iceland made a similar announcement after the country’s official trial revealed the “overwhelming success” of a four-day week in terms of productivity and wellbeing.
WATCHING FROM THE SIDELINES
It’s a point of contention for businessman Andrew Barnes, who claims Aotearoa’s businesses are "watching from the sidelines" as other countries beat us to a shorter week.
Barnes’ company Perpetual Guardian has been working four-day weeks since 2018, when an in-house trial led to a 20 per cent rise in productivity.
With businesses reluctant to act, the union movement could put the onus back on the Government, calling for an official trial and using its success to leverage for change.
AN IDEA WORTH EXPLORING
It’s certainly an idea worth exploring – particularly for our members who know what it’s like to be burnt-out and overworked at the height of a pandemic.
PSA delegate Sergio says: “A shorter week would mean spending time with family and friends, undertaking personal development, planning travels; all the things that make life so rich.”
The idea could have wider implications, too. According to Will Stronge and Kyle Lewis, authors of Overtime: Why We Need a Shorter Working Week, a four-day week could “create a more just and equitable society… providing scope for the many to achieve a happier and more fulfilling life.”
A shorter week is a feminist issue, equalising the distribution of unpaid labour in the home. It’s an environmental issue, providing a low-cost, high-impact way of decarbonising the economy.
FREEDOM AND FLEXIBILITY
Some of our members, however, face unsustainable workloads within their current routine, let alone a four-day week.
“We can’t continue to overwork and underpay those on the frontline of the pandemic and the climate crisis,” says PSA national secretary Kerry Davies says. “The stakes are just too high.
“Our fight for a four-day week must include a push for meaningful investment in public and community services to build the resilience we need to move toward a shorter working week that delivers on the promise of freedom and flexibility for all.”
You can win a copy of Overtime: Why We Need a Shorter Working Week if you tell us which European country introduced a four-day week this year. Email email@example.com to enter.