McDonnell sets out Labour plan for 32-hour working week
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the shorter average week could be delivered within a decade of taking office.
The average working week will be reduced to 32 hours within 10 years under a Labour government, John McDonnell promised.
The shadow chancellor claimed the move to an effective four-day week could be achieved with no reduction in pay for workers.
In his speech at the Labour Party’s conference in Brighton, he said Britons were working some of the longest hours in Europe and promised that would change.
The average working week was 37.1 hours in 2018, according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures.
Mr McDonnell said: “We should work to live, not live to work.
“In the 1860s people worked a 65-hour week. Thanks to past Labour governments – but actually mainly thanks to the trade union movement – by the 1970s the average working week had been reduced to 43 hours.
“As society got richer, we could spend fewer hours at work. But in recent decades progress has stalled.
“People in our country work some of the longest hours in Europe,
“Since the 1980s the link between increasing productivity and expanding free time has been broken. It’s time to put that right.
“So I can tell you today that the next Labour government will reduce the average full-time working week to 32 hours within the next decade.
“It will be a shorter working week with no loss of pay.”
The move, which was welcomed by trade unions, will involve setting up an independent Working Time Commission to recommend increases in minimum holiday entitlements.
Collective bargaining will enable trade unions and employers to negotiate how to meet the target in each sector of the economy.
There would not be a French-style cap on weekly working hours, instead progress to the 32-hour goal would be assessed based on the annual average figure compiled by the ONS.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady welcomed the commitment and said: “It’s time for working people to share in the benefits of new technology.
“That’s why unions have been arguing for less time at work, more time with family and friends and decent pay for everyone.”
Mr McDonnell also pledged that in-work poverty would be eliminated in the first term of a Labour government.
“We have always believed that getting a job should mean you are lifted out of poverty,” he said.
A growing economy built on fairness can only be delivered if business and government work together. The policies @johnmcdonnellMP announced today risk hanging a closed sign on the door of our open economy.— Carolyn Fairbairn (@cbicarolyn) September 23, 2019
Elsewhere in his speech Mr McDonnell:
– Said the UK would share “green technology” with poorer countries to make up for Britain’s “colonial past”
– Promised to “end the barbaric roll-out of Universal Credit”
– Launched a policy document promising to expand public services free at the point of use including childcare, post-school education, public transport for under-25s and school meals.
Business leaders were sceptical about the plans set out by the shadow chancellor.
Confederation of British Industry director-general Carolyn Fairbairn warned the plan to reduce average hours could hit firms and was scathing about some of Mr McDonnell’s other policies which “risk hanging a ‘closed’ sign on the door of our open economy”.
She said: “Business shares the shadow chancellor’s aim of a fairer economy. But too many of Labour’s policies would make this harder to achieve, harming the very people they are trying to help.
“Who would turn down a four-day week on the same pay? But without productivity gains it would push many businesses into loss.”
She said it was “time for Labour to root its polices in reality, not ideology”.
Edwin Morgan, interim director general at bosses’ organisation the Institute of Directors, said: “Labour’s working week policy may be eye-catching, but it puts the cart before the horse.
“The only way to reduce hours while maintaining pay is by improving productivity.”