Four-day week for Scotland’s public sector could create 60,000 jobs, report says

A new report by the think-tank Autonomy suggests that a four-day week for Scotland’s public sector could create up to 60,000 new jobs.

The report’s authors say the estimated £1.4 billion cost of the employment reform, which represents 3 per cent of the public sector pay bill and 2 per cent of public spending overall, would be “good value for money”.

There has been a renewed focus on the concept of reducing weekly working hours in Scotland, after a motion at the SNP conference calling for the Scottish Government to explore the idea passed with overwhelming support.

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It follows a similar move from New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, who recently signalled that a four-day working week could be a cornerstone of her country’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

A new report by the think-tank Autonomy suggests that a four-day week for Scotland’s public sector could create up to 60,000 new jobs. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

And earlier this week, British multinational brand Unilever announced it would embark on a year-long trial of a scheme that will reduce employee hours from 39 to 32 per week without cutting pay.

In September 2018, the non-profit organisation Advice Direct Scotland moved all staff onto a four-day working week - a decision its CEO described as a “great success”.

Andrew Bartlett told The Scotsman that the company “certainly wouldn’t go back” to a five-day working week, after seeing productivity rise, and staff absences fall by 77 per cent.

“They know that they are never more than four days away from a break,” he explained, “I know some employees who use the extra time for part-time study, or to keep fit.”

There has been a renewed focus on the concept of reducing weekly working hours in Scotland, after a motion at the SNP conference calling for the Scottish Government to explore the idea passed with overwhelming support. (Photo illustration by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

“We talked about it for a long time. We looked at Finland and New Zealand, where businesses had already tried it.

“It’s partly down to the sort of organisation we are. It was a logical next step.”

The company ran a three month trial of the scheme with its 70 workers to make sure it could work.

“Two things that were really important is that It couldn’t cost us any money, and there couldn’t be an impact on our customers,” Mr Bartlett said.

“It’s been a great success, a really great success. It’s good for our customers and it’s good for our staff.

Commenting on the latest report, Will Stronge, Director of Research at Autonomy, said: “A four-day week in the Scottish public sector would be a high-impact, low cost policy that could pioneer better work-life balance for workers across Scotland.

“At a very small fraction of the overall public sector pay bill, the move to a four-day week represents good value for money when considered alongside all of the benefits to workers and their employers.”

Joe Ryle, a campaigner with the 4 Day Week Campaign, said: “Scotland is leading the way on a four-day week and this report shows very clearly that the policy is both desirable and affordable.

“The Scottish government doesn’t have the power to implement a four-day week across the entire economy but they can and should implement it across Scotland’s public sector.”

The Scottish Conservatives warned that, without cutting staff salaries, the reform would cost the NHS £1.5 billion, and £1 billion across education and emergency services, adding that other taxpayer-funded organisations would also need to adopt the rules.

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