Employment

Workers should have the right to family time – including Keir Starmer, campaigners say

Workers should have the right to family time – including the Prime Minister, unions and campaigners have said.

Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, Vaughan Gething, First Minister of Wales, and Jo Stevens, Shadow Welsh Secretary, speak to a family in a cafe on Barry seafront. Credit: Keir Starmer Flickr

Workers should have the right to family time – including Keir Starmer if he becomes prime minister after 4 July, unions and campaigners have said.

Keir Starmer and the Conservatives are currently embroiled in a spat over the Labour leader’s working hours. Starmer said he would try to still “carve out protected time” for his teenage children if he wins the election this week, maintaining a tradition of attempting to finish work by 6pm on Fridays.

“There are a few exceptions, but that’s what we do,” the Labour hopeful told Virgin Radio. “I don’t believe in the theory that you’re a better decision-maker if you don’t allow yourself the space to be a dad and have fun with your kids.”

The comments prompted the Tories to accuse Keir Starmer of planning a “part-time” prime ministership, attacks that Starmer has described as “laughable”.

“My family is important to me, as they will be for every single person watching this,” he told reporters. “I just think it’s increasing desperation bordering on hysterical now.”

Full Fact – a fact-checking nonprofit – suggested that the Conservative Party has taken Starmer’s initial comments out of context. But politicking aside, a work life balance is important for everyone, said Aliyah Davies, campaign coordinator at the 4 Day Week Campaign.

“British workers put in some of the longest full-time hours in Europe and are facing a burnout crisis because of it,” she said.

“Setting sensible boundaries as Keir Starmer has outlined is an easy way to mitigate stress and burnout, so too is the ‘right to disconnect’ as promised by the Labour Party.”

A staggering 91% of adults in the UK said they experienced high or extreme levels of pressure or stress at some point in the past year, research by Mental Health UK has found.

For a significant number of people, these feelings can become unmanageable. The same study found that one in four (24%) adults felt ‘unable to manage stress and pressure in the workplace’, and one in five working adults (20%) had to take time off work due to poor mental health caused by pressure.

To tackle this, the Labour Party has proposed a legal “right to disconnect” – the right to refrain from electronic communication outside of work hours.

Every worker deserves the right to set such boundaries, said Josie Irwin, the head of equality at UNISON union. “To want a better balance between the competing commitments of modern life isn’t a sign of weakness – it’s sensible,” she said.

“Flexibility and innovation are the key to productive, healthy jobs and all employers should be embracing this new way of working.”

TUC general secretary Paul Nowak echoed this sentiment, warning that an “’always’ on culture is not good for anyone”.

“Burnout is a growing problem across Britain – with technology increasingly blurring the line between people’s work and personal lives,” he said. “It is bad for workers’ health, morale and productivity. And in some cases, it is causing long-term sickness.”

 Britain is in the grips of so-called “sick note culture”, the Tories have claimed, proposing a series of punitive benefit reforms to force people back into work. But such measures do little to tackle the underlying causes of long-term unemployment – including chronic stress.

If the next government really want to tackle the UK’s burnout problem, then it needs to adopt the four-day working week, said Davies.

“Moving to a four-day working week with no loss of pay has been proven to reduce stress and burnout, improve work-life balance, and ultimately could allow us all to live happier and more fulfilled lives,” she urged.

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