There’s no natural law determining the amount of time we spend at work.
Typical working hours have changed throughout history, usually because working people in unions have fought for shorter hours and more control over their time.
When the TUC was founded in 1868, workers put in an average of 62 hours a week. By 2018, that had almost halved.
And there’s no reason to stop here. As new technology makes us richer, the benefits should be shared by working people, in the form of shorter hours, more time with family and friends and decent pay for everyone.
That’s why the TUC supports a move towards a typical four-day week. And today, we’re running an event with NEF exploring how trade unions can ensure we get there.
But new technology also raises questions about workers’ control over their own time, and their power to change things at work.
And in lots of ways, we’re travelling in the wrong direction.
The boundaries between working and non-working time are becoming blurred.
We’ve seen the rise of one-way flexibility, where employers get all the benefits and workers bear all the costs. Look at the 800,000 people on zero-hours contracts, constantly at the beck and call of their employers.
In all sorts of sectors, workers are finding themselves always on call, with emails, calls or texts preventing them from switching off at evenings or weekends.
This reinforces Britain’s long-hours culture, and it’s nothing to be proud of. Workers in the UK put in more than £32 billion hours worth of unpaid overtime last year.
And let’s be clear: if your employer takes your time and doesn’t pay you for it – that amounts to theft.
All of this is taking its toll on our health and our families, not to mention on productivity.
So it’s time for a change. A four-day week is an achievable ambition for the coming decades, but there are things we can also do right now to give workers more control over when they work.
From non-payment of the minimum wage to workers not being paid for the hours they work, unions know from experience that time doesn’t always equal money.
So it’s time to end the scandal of unpaid overtime – and make sure every worker has the right to guaranteed hours and fair notice of their shifts.
If an employer cancels a shift at short notice they should pay fair compensation to the worker.
We want a ban on exploitative zero-hour contracts and action to tackle bogus self-employment that leaves people struggling to make ends meet.
It’s not too late to put an end to the culture of always being at the beck and call of the smartphone and the boss behind it. New tech can and should be used to free workers from being on call round the clock.
Homeworking, term-time working, nine-day fortnights and flexitime are all examples of how this could work.
Real positive flexibility that helps you fit your work-life around your other commitments.
We already know the UK works some of the longest hours in Europe. And yet our productivity levels are so much lower than our European partners.
Overwork, stress and exhaustion have become the new normal – and it’s nothing to be proud of.
So let’s end the long working hours culture in this country and accept the fact that workers are more productive when they’re properly rested.
No more stealing time from workers. They deserve shorter hours, more time with family and friends, and decent pay to enjoy it.
That’s why we’re calling for new rights to ensure employers who break the rules on working time can be brought to employment tribunals.
It’s not too late to make new technology work for workers, to ensure they can switch off once the workday is done, get paid properly for the work they do, and have the real flexibility they need to do their job well.
Unions won the five-day week, limits on working time and paid holidays.
We changed things before. We’ll change them again.