Workplace Report September 2019

Bargaining news

Routes to shorter working hours 

Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell has committed a future Labour government to reducing the average working week to 32 hours within a decade. 

Labour’s plan would involve setting up an independent Working Time Commission — based on the Low Pay Commission model — to recommend increases in minimum holiday entitlements, and the rolling out sectoral collective bargaining. 

McDonnell’s proposals follow the publication of a report by Lord Skidelsky, How to achieve shorter working hours, which was comissioned by McDonnell. The report calls for: 

• a Job Guarantee Scheme -for any job seeker who cannot find work in the private sector;

• investment in the public sector;

• the use of procurement policies to establish pay, conditions and hours;

• establishing sectoral social partnership forums, by legislation if necessary;

• imposing a statutory duty on listed companies to disclose the impact of automation on employment; and

• improving and enforcing individual time rights, including ending the opt-out provision for the EU Working Time Directive

Skidelsky steers away from an across-the-board approach like France’s 35-hour week, which he says is not “realistic or even desirable”, because of the needs of different sectors. While the state would have a crucial role, social attitudes support a piecemeal rather than a one-size fits all approach. 

Employees welcome the goal of shorter hours, but some want earlier retirement or more flexible hours rather than a shorter week.