More and more, governments and businesses are talking about the fourth industrial revolution and many think it is already upon us, as technology becomes increasingly important to our everyday lives, both at work and at home.
It is possibly no surprise then that, at their annual conference , the Trade Union Congress (TUC) said that these technological changes to the workplace could lead to a four-day (or 28 hour) work week by 2100. In fact, they did more than suppose it might happen, they called for a change to working practices and government legislation to make sure that it did.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said that artificial intelligence and automation were making workplaces more efficient, and that businesses were making savings to their bottom line as a result. The TUC believes that these savings shouldn’t just benefit the business owners and shareholders, but employees too, in the form of the four-day working week.
For the TUC, this is part of its goal to make the working world a better place for every employee and it is a natural progression from the work that unions have done over the years to improve workers’ rights, from getting an eight-hour work day in the 19th century to winning the right to paid holidays in the 20th.
This proposed change shouldn’t be confused with flexible working, which many employees are already able to take advantage of, but which, if they work reduced hours, also results in reduced pay. The TUC is looking for employees to be paid the same for a four-day work week as they are now for a five-day one.
The TUC acknowledges that there is a long way to go to convince the government and companies to make the change, especially when you consider the fact that UK workers spend longer at their desk than most other countries in the EU, and almost 1.5 million work seven days a week.
The argument may be won on the benefits to employers of making these changes, which are seen as being greater than those already seen by companies offering flexible working. As far back as 2014, for example, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills acknowledged that companies offering flexible working were able to attract high-quality candidates, had higher levels of staff morale and saw increased retention rates once a flexible working policy was implemented. Also, flexible working has been shown to have a positive impact on levels of work-related stress and people’s mental health, meaning fewer sick days.
With benefits on both sides (the employer and the employees), this looks like an argument that will continue to be made, perhaps more forcibly with each technological change.