By John Gallacher

IT’S time for a four-day-week. Surely Covid19 reminds us we can find solutions to big problems when we have to. A better world is possible, if we embrace change.

The four-day week is not such an outlandish change. Strathclyde University has adopted it throughout lockdown, urging staff to take a Friday rest day to “give us all an opportunity to focus on our families, wellbeing and other personal responsibilities”.

Before Covid-19, Gothenburg’s Toyota factory moved mechanics to a six-hour day. Far from making the company less competitive output rose by 14 per cent and profits by 25%. Sweden conducted a trial with care home nurses working six hours five days a week. Nurses logged fewer sick hours, reported better health, it improved quality of care, and research showed they improved their engagement with those they cared for.

Public services unions in Reykavik negotiated a four-hour reduced working week for 300 local authority employees. There was less sickness, improved employee satisfaction and no loss in productivity. It was extended to 2,200 workers. New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, suggests employers consider a four-day working week and other flexible working options to boost tourism, using a four-day week to boost the economy.

Clearly shorter working brings happier, less stressed, committed workers who take less sick leave. But it also increases productivity, profit and output.

UK industry, economy and society did not suffer when we moved to an eight-hour day or introduced the weekend. It was progress. We remained the workshop of the world and our economy and wealth grew. It made us healthier, stronger and richer.

But the lesson from history is progress is not automatic. It’s a struggle. We need to negotiate, bargain and campaign for it. And we are more open to radical ideas after great national upheavels like world wars, or pandemics. There was a century between Robert Owen’s utopian New Lanark Mill and the adoption of the eight-hour day after the First World War.

Unison Scotland has taken the first steps, suggesting college staff work three hours less a week – moving from a 35 to a 32-hour week. Most of our members earn less than £25k per year. This change could bring huge benefits to staff, students and education more generally.

The SNP national conference recently agreed to consider a four-day week and it is official Labour Party policy, and 62 per cent of the British public support it, even though we have the longest working hours in Europe. A cross-party group of MPs have urged the UK Government to explore a four day week to aid the recovery from the coronavirus crisis. As has the Scotland’s Post-Covid-19 Futures Commission “to alleviate pressure on the unemployed, make more jobs available and set us up for a better future”.

We are yet to understand the full consequences of this pandemic. We are staring at increases in unemployment and funding gaps for public services. Business must adapt to a new normal with social distancing.

Countries with lower working hours have less of a carbon footprint, and better health and wellbeing. No-one can accuse Germany or Sweden of low productivity or weak economies. Surely a fou- day week should be on the table. It’s an idea whose time has come.

Trade unions have always been lead the campaign for better work life balance. Who else will lead this agenda?

John Gallacher is Unison Scotland Head of Bargaining