Employment

MP pushing for four-day week says long working hours are to blame for the UK’s low productivity

A bill to shorten the working week to 32 hours has been introduced by a Labour MP

Peter Dowd has said the movement towards a four-day working week is "growing in strength". Image: Parliament TV

An MP calling for a national switch to a four-day week has blamed long working hours for the UK’s low levels of productivity.

Under the new legislation presented to parliament by Labour MP Peter Dowd, every British worker would be given the legal right to a four-day working week.

“All the evidence shows a four-day week with no loss of pay would be good for the economy, good for workers and good for the environment” said Dowd, presenting a shorter working week as beneficial to Britain’s ailing economy.

The proposed legislation comes weeks after the world’s biggest trial of a four-day working week, held in the UK, passed the halfway mark – with early reports of the trial suggesting it’s going “extremely well”.

But the proposals were strongly rebuffed by Conservative MP Sir Christopher Chope who argued that the legislation would prevent people who wanted to work more than 32 hours a week from doing so, claiming that it would be akin to throwing a “hand grenade” into the economy. 

The UK’s productivity has lagged behind that of Europe, the US and Japan for decades due to the long hours many Brits work, Dowd argued. 

“It may seem counterintuitive that working less hours results in greater productivity, but there is already surmounting evidence that proves the hypothesis,” he said.

“Long working hours are an acute problem in this country. According to the TUC British workers put in some of the longest hours in Europe while having one of the least productive economies in comparison.” 

He added: “And according to the Health and Safety Executive, 18 million work days were lost as a result of work-related stress, depression, or anxiety.” 

The Labour MP for Bootle, near Liverpool, has also argued that additional time off work would give people more time to spend money in their local economies.

His comments sit in stark contrast to those of the prime minister Liz Truss, who has previously suggested the British economy has been held back by unproductive workers who need “more graft”, suggesting they lack the “skill and application” of foreign rivals.

Workers are currently able to work a maximum of 48 hours per week under the Working Time Regulations Act 1998, but Dowd is seeking to get this cut by a third.

Over 70 companies and 3,300 workers in Britain are currently taking part in the world’s biggest ever four-day week pilot, receiving the same pay for an extra day off each week. 

Six months in, nine in 10 of those taking part have reported that they would be likely to consider keeping the new way of working. Just under a third said that the transition to one less working day a week had been “extremely smooth”, and just under half reporting that business productivity had improved “at least slightly” if not “significantly”. 

A four-day working week has also been adopted by some in a bid to attract workers as the recruitment crisis deepens – with South Cambridgeshire council becoming the first UK council to make the switch, in an attempt to fill longstanding 23 vacancies.   

Joe Ryle, director of the 4 Day Week Campaign, said moving to a four-day working week is not only a “win-win” for both workers and employers, but would also “boost productivity which is very low in the UK compared with our European neighbours.”

“Moving to a four-day week would be transformative for wellbeing and would give us all the time to live happier and more fulfilled lives,” he continued.

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