Scotland 4-day working week: how could the trial work, who could take part, and when might it start?

The SNP manifesto promised to ‘establish a £10 million fund to allow companies to pilot and explore the benefits of a four day working week’

The Scottish government has announced that it is in the early stages of designing trials for a four day work week, without loss of pay.

A report released on Wednesday 1 September by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) called on the government to expand its commitment to its four-day working week pilots, and offered a number of suggestions for ways to implement the change.

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What has the Scottish government said?

A Scottish government spokesperson said: “The pandemic has served to intensify interest in and support for more flexible working practices, which could include a shift to a four-day working week.

“Reductions in the working week might help sustain more and better jobs, and enhance wellbeing.

“We are in the early stages of designing a £10 million pilot that will help companies explore the benefits and costs of moving to a four-day working week.

“The pilot will allow us to develop a better understanding of the implications of a broader shift to a shorter working week across the economy.”

In the 2021 SNP manifesto, it said: “Covid-19 changed the way we work almost overnight. As we recover from the pandemic, we want to do more to support people achieve a healthy work-life balance.

“We also want to keep the total number of people in employment high. As part of this, we will establish a £10 million fund to allow companies to pilot and explore the benefits of a four day working week.

“We will use the learning from this to consider a more general shift to a four day working week as and when Scotland gains full control of employment rights.

“We will also identify additional employment opportunities and assess the economic impact of moving to a four day week.”

What did IPPR say?

Research from the think tank IPPR found that 88 per cent of working age people in Scotland would be willing to take part in the shorter working time trial schemes set to be piloted.

Over 80 per cent would support the introduction of a day day working week with no loss of pay, and 80 per cent also believe that a four day work week would have a positive impact on their wellbeing.

The report called on the Scottish government to expand its four-day week pilot to include more sectors, in order to include those working from non-office based jobs, people in shift work and flexible work, and those working part time.

IPPR also suggested additional policy measures that the Scottish government can take in order to ensure that workers in the previously listed situations don’t miss out on the benefits of the scheme, such as “new bank holidays, expanded parental leave, and increased annual leave entitlements”.

Rachel Statham, report co-author and senior research fellow at IPPR Scotland, said:  “The Scottish Government is right to be trialling a four-day working week because today’s evidence shows that it is a policy with overwhelming public support, and could be a positive step towards building an economy hardwired for wellbeing.

“But any successful transition post-Covid-19 must include all kinds of workplaces, and all types of work. The full time, nine-to-five office job is not how many people across Scotland work – and shorter working time trials need to reflect that reality.

“So we must examine what shorter working time looks like from the perspective of shift workers, those working excessive hours to make ends meet, or those who currently have fewer hours than they would like to have.

“It’s time to turn our ambitions to build a Scotland better than before, into reality. That reality has to be a fairer, wellbeing economy in which everyone in Scotland can thrive”.

How could the four day week be implemented?

The Scottish government could look to a number of countries around the world for inspiration when it comes to putting the four day work week into action.

In Iceland, a trial took place between 2015 and 2019 where workers were paid the same amount for shorter hours. Researchers found that productivity remained the same, or even improved, in the majority of workplaces.

The trial was run by the Reykjavik City Council, and a range of workplaces took part, including offices, schools and hospitals.

The trials led to unions in Iceland renegotiating working patterns, and 86 per cent of the Icelandic workforce has either moved to shorter hours for the same pay, or will gain the right to do so, researchers say.

A number of firms in New Zealand are also testing out the four-day work week, with the latest being Unilever.

In 2019, Microsoft Japan experienced a 40 per cent boost in sales when it reduced its working week.

Do any Scottish companies already offer a four day week?

Some firms in Scotland have already shifted over to a four day working week.

The Upac Group, a packaging firm based in Glasgow, announced that following a successful trial period, it would be moving to a four day week.

“After extensive research and trials, Packaging Supplier to the Food & Drink industry, The UPAC Group’s management team are set to formalise the four-day working week with employees remaining on full salary, full holiday entitlement and all the benefits of working at a truly incredible company,” the company said in a statement.

The group said that there was “no evidence of any drop in productivity” amongst its staff over the two month trial period, but there was a “marked decrease in stress levels”.

Earlier this year in April, Edinburgh based construction company Orocco also announced that it would be implementing a universal four day working week.

“The idea behind the change is to boost employee wellbeing and to improve work/life balance,” Orocco said in its announcement.

YWCA Scotland has implemented a four day working week as well, stating that “research clearly demonstrates that transition to 4-day working week can improve productivity, overall job satisfaction and work-life balance”.

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