Just over a year ago Frances O’Grady committed the union movement to campaign for a four-day week. Today the Labour Party pledged to work for a 32-hour week with no loss of pay within ten years. It’s a major step forward.
As John McDonnell set out in his speech to Labour Conference, workers in the UK currently work the longest hours in the EU. But there’s nothing inevitable about that: thanks to trade union campaigning, the length of the average working week almost halved over the last century.
And unions are winning victories on working time now. At our congress this year we heard how Unite workers at Bentley have got their working week down to 35 hours, and how the CWU’s deal with Royal Mail promised a two-hour reduction in the working week, along with no loss of pay.
That’s why it’s important that the key pillar of Labour’s plans is to use collective bargaining to drive through the reductions in the working week we need. We know that there won’t be a one size fits all solution to how to reduce working time – so it’s right that it’s negotiated by the people who know how best how their industry operates – those who work in it (our plans for how to spread collective bargaining across the economy are here).
Labour has also said they’ll set up a working time commission to look at how to increase leave entitlement to get the working week down on an annual basis. We’ve long highlighted how our bank holidays lag behind those of European workers - delivering new bank holiday entitlements should be a clear priority for the commission (which we’d hope would have trade union representation).
New working time rules need to be enforced. At the moment, two million workers every year miss out on the holiday entitlements they’ve already got. That’s why it’s important that Labour’s talking about strengthening the Working Time Directive and ending the opt out that allows employers to pressure people into unhealthy working weeks.
Trade unions have fought for control over working time since we were founded. We won the weekend, the right to paid holidays, and rights for those who work part time. Today’s Labour announcement shows that in the twenty-first century, we can win a shorter working week too.
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