A state-imposed 4 day week would not work



Do you know what could be a brilliant idea? A 4-day week. There’s some evidence that it might boost productivity as employees work harder in the time they are at work and are more refreshed when they return to the office after their break. It may also boost job satisfaction as workers feel that their employers value them and are willing to offer them something desirable and out of the ordinary. It can help enable companies to operate out of smaller offices as, on any given day, at least 20% of their staff are not on site.

Do you know what definitely is a terrible idea? A state-imposed 4-day week. And yet that is what the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell promised at the Labour Party Conference:

“I can tell you today that the next Labour government will put in place the changes needed to reduce average full-time working hours to 32 a week within the next decade. A shorter working week with no loss of pay.”

Now there were a number of reassuringly moronic policies floated at Labour’s Conference. Toby Young listed several of them in his superbly titled article ‘Labour’s next manifesto will be completely bonkers’. Is the state deciding that businesses should all introduce a 4-day week “with no loss of pay” a worse policy than abolishing private education or introducing completely open borders with anyone from anywhere on the planet being unilaterally given the right to move to the UK and then automatically receive all the benefits of citizenship? Perhaps not, but it does say a huge amount about how utterly clueless Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are about business.

The idea that any Government knows better than individual businessmen and women how to run their businesses is deeply silly. The idea that a Labour Government knows best is utterly laughable. The idea that a potential Labour Government led by Corbyn and McDonnell might know best is borderline demented. The fact that it was announced against the backdrop of a report commissioned by John McDonnell and written by Lord Skidelsky, that made clear that imposing a 4-day week “would not be realistic or even desirable”, is just the icing on the cake.

Incidentally, Sadiq Khan, the self-styled “most pro-business Mayor ever” has yet to comment on the Shadow Chancellor’s latest wheeze. This could be because he agrees that it’s a great idea. Or perhaps it’s simply that he’s swallowed any convictions he might once have had and now avoids criticising the Labour Leadership unless he feels he has no choice. We should be told, but we almost certainly won’t be.

The current Mayor really isn’t keen on standing up for Londoner against Corbyn and McDonnell, lest he upset the hard-left Labour members whose support he desperately wants when he gets a chance to run for Labour Leader.

Of course we’ve yet to hear any real detail on how the putative future Chancellor believes his policy would work. How well does he expect state schools to cope with all their teachers at work for just 4 days a week? Presumably students can still anticipate 5 days of education per week. If so then in order that no staff member sees a reduction in their salary, schools will need to increase their staffing budgets by 20%. Chancellor McDonnell will need to find the money from somewhere – presumably from the businesses that will all be thriving and definitely won’t be going to the wall under a Labour Government.

What will happen to the self-employed? Will they be allowed to work more than 4 days a week? Many start-ups would never get off the ground if their founders were unable to burn the candle at both ends. When I set up my business I worked whatever hours were needed. That is hardly an unusual position. Equally there are times when businesses go through tough times, tighten their belts and get through them. Forcing those businesses to pay 5-days wages to staff working 4-day weeks could easily mean they don’t survive. How can John McDonnell fail to understand this?

Ultimately there are plenty of reasons why individual companies might choose to introduce a 4-day week for their staff. There are plenty of reasons why an individual might wish to prioritise working for fewer hours over, for example, a pay rise. And the free market is perfectly equipped to enable such options. Vast numbers of businesses already offer flexible working or allow their staff to work a compressed week in which a typical 5 day week is worked over the course of 4 long days. This flexibility is a positive trend. But it will not be suitable for every employer or every employee. This is not a place for the state to intervene. It may not be the worst policy Labour announced at their Conference, but it should remind us that a Labour Government won’t be suitable for any employer or any employee. If Corbyn and McDonnell ever get into power, a 4-day week will be the least of our worries.

Susan Hall is a London Assembly Member and Deputy Leader of the Conservative Group. Follow her on twitter: @Councillorsuzie