The Future of Working Time

Dr. Aileen O'Carroll, IFUT

‘A four-day work week could lead to greater productivity and wealth'

Dr Aileen O’Carroll, Chair of the IFUT Maynooth Branch, spoke at an international conference held on the 22ndNovember 2018, organised by Fórsa, which explored emerging trade union demands for a move towards a four-day week as standard over the coming years.  Other contributions to the conference were made by trade unionists and working time experts from Ireland, Germany and the UK.

IFUT’s Deputy General Secretary, Frank Jones, and Fiona Lee, Industrial Relations & Data Protection Officer, also attended the conference.

Working time is emerging as one of the central issues in international debates about the future of work. This is partly due to concerns for the mental and physical health of workers and growing concerns about work-life balance in an age where caring responsibilities for younger and older dependents are growing.

The length of the working week has remained more or less the same over the last few decades.  If anything, we now have less control over our working time with the arrival of remote e-mail facilities and mobile phones, from which we cannot easily disconnect during evenings and weekends.

Workers have historically benefited from improvements in technology through reduced working time.  The reduction in average working hours from over 60 a week in 1868, 150 years ago, to just over 30 today is one example.  This has hugely improved the quality of life for workers and their families.

The weekend that many of us take for granted was also seen as an unaffordable luxury until around the middle of the 20th century.  Several generations on, we have the chance to fight for a fairer share for everyone, including a four-day week.

In this context, a reduction in working time is entirely feasible even within current levels of technology.  The benefits for society, gender and age equality, the economy and the environment could be significant.

Conference speakers highlighted the gender aspects of working time, specifically for women with childcare and other caring responsibilities, as well as the need for workers to have control over their working hours in an era of zero-hours’ contracts and other new forms of work organisation.