After the conclusion of the annual party conferences, The Gryphon analyses the key policies from Labour and the Conservatives. Callum Ellis discusses whether John McDonnell’s dream of a four-day working week could one day become a reality.
Those who are still attempting to understand the current political climate, and haven’t given up and turned to the line up for 2019’s Ex on the Beach, will know that we have recently seen the conclusion of the annual party conferences.
Common to these party conferences are bold slogans and empty rhetoric of how ‘things have never been better’, or ‘have never been worse.’ But what has particularly caught the attention of the public is Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s promise of reducing the working week to 32 hours, within 10 years.
It is worth mentioning that this does not follow suit of a French-style cap on hours. Rather, working hours will be negotiated between employers and trade unions.
Arguably, Labour have recognised the nation’s woe towards the current work-to-life ratio; captured in John McDonnell’s speech where he states,
“we should work to live, not live to work.”
Reports are increasingly demonstrating the correlation between work and depression, as shown in The Independent, where it was found that people with high stress jobs have twice the risk of developing serious depression.
Through a logical chain of thought, it can be established that the prevalence of depression, as a consequence from stressful working conditions, can lead to economic repercussions. Namely, a more discontented workforce is a less productive workforce.
It is possible that people reading this will have grown to resent the word ‘Brexit’ because of its domination over the media.
However, I do remain unapologetic for mentioning Brexit as that is sadly a relevant factor in this discussion. Brexit presents a series of issues, a significant one being job security.
With the UK’s position in the world’s largest trading bloc being uncertain, it is now essential that the UK can conduct business with the rest of the world.
Commercial links are established based on trust: trust that the UK can operate efficiently, trust that the UK can provide advanced infrastructure and a strong economy. Foundational to this is an available labour market. Without a workforce there is: no efficiency, no means of providing strong infrastructure and thus no strong economy.
This article isn’t advocating for the reintroduction of Victorian-style working conditions. But what has to be considered is that we take a realistic position to this policy.
It isn’t guaranteed that the UK will withdraw from the European Union anytime soon, so to expect employers to be susceptible to the idea of reducing working hours at an unstable time is, in the eyes of many, implausible.
According to the BBC, if the workforce remained the same, these cuts in hours would see 100 million hours of work lost a week which would detrimentally impact the economy.
Whilst there is consensus that the wellbeing of the UK workforce should be promoted, many believe that reducing working hours is not how this should be achieved and is not economically viable. Instead, critics advocate that measures should be implemented to see working conditions improve in order to see better productivity, without compromising the incentive to conduct business here in the UK.