For the past century, the western world of work has been dominated by the standard 9 to 5, five day working week but the Covid pandemic is triggering calls for a rethink.

It was over 100 years ago that the trade union movement won us the weekend. Before that most people used to work six days a week, from Monday to Saturday.

The 9 to 5, five day working week was designed for the particular form of industrial and agricultural economy that we had at the time. Despite the fact the world of work is completely transformed today, working hours have changed very little.

READ MORE: How could Wales benefit from a four-day working week?

Unfortunately, the rise of zero hours contracts and low pay has meant that for many, workers are putting in hours way beyond the standard 9 to 5.

As a result, mental health issues are on the rise and last year 55% of all sick days in the UK were a direct result of work-related stress, depression or anxiety, according to the Health and Safety Executive.

The National Wales: Joe Ryle is the Campaign Director for the 4 Day Week CampaignJoe Ryle is the Campaign Director for the 4 Day Week Campaign

A rational person may think that for all the time we spend at work, at least we're contributing to a productive economy. Wrong. In fact, UK workers put in the longest full-time hours compared with any EU country except for Greece, but we have the least productive economy and the fewest number of bank holidays. According to the Financial Times, the average French worker produces more by the end of Thursday than their UK counterpart can in a full week.

There are signs that the Covid pandemic has opened people's eyes to the need for change in the workplace. Before the pandemic, no one could have imagined the speed at which people shifted to remote working or that at one stage 30 percent of the workforce would have their wages paid directly by the government through the Furlough Scheme.

What this has shown us is that the world of work can change very quickly, but only when we want it too.

In many countries across the world, the idea of moving to a four-day working week – crucially with no reduction in pay – is beginning to pick up steam.

In Iceland, “overwhelmingly successful” trials of a shorter working week with no loss in pay resulted in a boost to productivity and workers well being – a win-win for workers and the economy. Governments in Scotland, Ireland and Spain are all now devising their own four-day week pilots that are scheduled to begin early next year.

Last week, campaigners in Wales tabled a petition in the Senedd calling on the Welsh Government to support trials of a four-day week and it has been signed by more than 1000 people already.

The National Wales: Jack Sargeant, the Labour MS for Alyn and Deeside, has been championing the idea of a four-day week in Wales.Jack Sargeant, the Labour MS for Alyn and Deeside, has been championing the idea of a four-day week in Wales.

At the last debate in the Senedd on the issue, there was cross-party support for moving ahead with trials from Plaid Cymru, Labour and the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Jane Dodds. Jack Sargeant, Labour MS for Alyn and Deeside, has been championing the idea of a four-day week in Wales.

Numerous studies show that moving to a four-day working week with no loss in pay boosts productivity and workers’ well being. When Microsoft trialled a four-day week in their Japan office, productivity went up by 40%.

There are also huge potential benefits that could be reaped for the environment with one study showing that moving to a four-day week could reduce the UK's carbon footprint by up to 21%.

The Covid pandemic has shone a spotlight on the amount of time we spend working and provided perhaps the greatest opportunity there could ever be for a much needed reduction in working hours. 

The time has come for a radical Welsh Government to lead the way by supporting four-day week trials in Wales.

Joe Ryle is the Campaign Director for the 4 Day Week Campaign.

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