Workers deserve a 32 hour work week with no loss of pay

Photo by Tiger Lily

Since the industrialization of the world, workers organized in unions have fought for many key rights Canadians enjoy today. In the early days of Capitalism, it was not uncommon for a worker to spend 80 hours per week at their job in strenuous working conditions. Thanks to organized labour, this has trended downward, and the 40-hour workweek is the norm. It’s time to take the next step.

Over half of Canadians seem to agree, according to a recent Angus Reid poll. The number jumps from 53% to 64% support among those in the lowest levels of household income. The reasons for this seem obvious, as a 4 day, 8 hours per day work week with no loss of pay would provide a much-needed break to many workers.

The benefits for working people are clear and simple: more free time, more work focus, less work-related stress and injury, less carbon footprint from commuting, higher-paying jobs, and more. The realization of this goal is not quite as simple; there will most definitely be pushback from both small and big businesses as this policy may cut into profit margins. But just because it might be a complicated process doesn’t mean it’s not a goal worth striving for.

If Canada, as a society, were to transition from a 5 day, 40 hour work week, to a 4 day, 32-hour workweek while adjusting wages to result in no loss of pay, that would result in every hourly worker receiving a 25% raise. For example, a worker making $15 per hour with 40 hours per week would then need to make $18.75 per hour and work 32 hours to earn the same gross income.

While this may seem like a hit to a business bottom line, it’s not quite as bad as one might think. Consider how BC implemented a 15$ minimum wage. Between September 2017 and June 2021, the minimum wage was increased annually (and still is increasing) from $11.35 to $15.20 per hour. This gradual 34% increase in the minimum wage was a response to businesses’ insistence on stability. To mandate an almost $4 increase in the minimum wage directly could be too big of a hit for some businesses to handle. By spreading out the increases in small, manageable chunks, a business has a sense of stable expectations for future costs.

Why couldn’t we do the same thing with the 4 day work week? Why not chip off two hours every Friday over four years? Or one hour the next eight years?

This could be a good way to at least get the ball rolling. Such a gradual shift could be sustainable for most businesses.

Photo by Chris LeBoutillier

Admittedly for some industries, such as some skilled trades that are experiencing worker shortages, this may be a bit more difficult. But a 4 day work week would provide a better incentive for workers to stay in those fields as less than half of skilled trades workers make it through their training programs.

There are some smaller, secondary effects of the 32-hour workweek, that also help alleviate small business concerns. These include marginal decreases in benefits paid by employers, workers taking fewer sick/stress days, and decreased utility and operational costs.

Another key secondary effect would be the simple fact that working people would have more time to spend money. Giving people more time for local travel and leisure is an excellent way to stimulate the economy.

Office jobs, usually paid as salary, would be able to implement the 4 day work week much more easily. One financial service firm in New Zealand did just that with remarkable results:

“Employees, in general, reported much better work-life balance, job satisfaction and health as well as less job stress. Less time spent in meetings, too. For Perpetual Guardian, revenue and profitability have risen 6% and 12.5% respectively; job performance, team creativity and staff retention increased, too. The offices never closed down; they just had fewer people working there.”

And, to add to that, it was said that “generally speaking, workflex variations are one of the least expensive ways to make employees happier.”

Isn’t this what working people in the current moment deserve? Decades of wage stagnation and the rising cost of living while productivity increases are due to right-wing economic policies. It’s about time workers got some relief.

Source: Centre for the study of Living Standards

It is interesting to note that workers in Germany, Denmark, Norway and others already work significantly less than Canadians do. In fact, the average yearly hours worked is almost 20% less for those countries compared to Canada, while being on average more productive. Why not follow in their footsteps?

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