Unison pushes for four-day work week for NHS staff and police

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Unison, the UK’s largest union, is urging the next government to enshrine the right to a four-day work week for all workers, following a vote of support from its members.

Representing public service workers, including NHS staff and police, Unison delegates passed a motion demanding legislative action to encourage employers to adopt this new work model.

“Trade unions fought for an eight-hour day in the 19th century and a two-day weekend in the 20th. In the 21st century, it is time to take the next step and win a four-day week with fair pay for all,” the union stated.

This motion adds pressure on Labour to consider implementing a four-day work week if they secure victory in the upcoming election, as current polls suggest. Since 2019, Unison has donated over £8 million to Labour, positioning itself as one of the party’s most significant financial backers.

However, Unison’s proposal is not without controversy. The union, boasting over 1.3 million members, represents workers in many essential public services. Critics argue that a four-day work week may not be viable for sectors already under strain.

Julian Jessop, an economics fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs, voiced his concerns: “There are some services where a four-day working week is not a realistic option. Doctors are already struggling to provide enough GP appointments – how can they see 25% more patients in a day?”

Unison represents employees at South Cambridgeshire District Council, the first UK council to implement a four-day week with no loss of pay. The government has been closely monitoring this policy due to concerns about its impact on taxpayers.

Christina McAnea, Unison’s general secretary, believes a shorter working week is inevitable with the rise of artificial intelligence expected to reduce workloads. However, a spokesman did not confirm whether Unison staff would also transition to a shorter week.

Ms McAnea emphasised the need for a new approach to workplace organisation and progressive policies to secure livelihoods and wellbeing. “The pandemic proved that people could do their jobs from home and still be efficient. A four-day working week is the next big step,” she added.

The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, representing public sector workers, has similarly called for a significant reduction in working hours without a cut in salaries.

In 2022, over 3,000 employees across 61 businesses participated in a nationwide pilot of a four-day work week with no loss of pay. Researchers found that businesses saw a 1.4% increase in revenue and a 65% reduction in sick days by the end of the six-month trial, with only three companies discontinuing the scheme.

Notably, the CEO of British challenger bank Atom reported improvements in every metric since adopting a four-day week.

Following the successful UK pilot, campaigners urged MPs to legislate a four-day work week, hailing the trial as a significant breakthrough. The concept is gaining international interest, with other countries also exploring the idea. French President Emmanuel Macron recently had to delay a labour summit on the topic due to participant holidays.

A poll commissioned by the 4 Day Week Campaign revealed broad support among UK adults, with 67% of Tory voters, 69% of Labour voters, and 74% of Liberal Democrat voters in favour of a four-day working week.

Increasingly, companies are considering this work model to attract talent, as evidenced by the billionaire Issa brothers trialling a four-day week at Asda to address managerial discontent.

Unison’s push for a four-day work week represents a significant shift in the dialogue around work-life balance and productivity in the UK, potentially heralding a major change in labour practices if Labour takes power.

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Unison pushes for four-day work week for NHS staff and police