The 4-Day Week trial has found itself at the centre of an ideological storm. Why?
The political fall-out from the Government’s attempts to stop public bodies from taking part in the 4-Day Week trial continues. The 4-Day Week involves employers agreeing to reduce hours but not pay on the grounds that greater opportunities to rest boost retention and productivity. There have been trials around the world and the evidence seems positive.
The Government, however, has said it is opposed and says that a 4-Day Week doesn’t offer best value for the public on the grounds that services need to be available every day of the week, although employers can still choose to cover five days a week by rostering staff on different days under the 4-Day Week trial.
South Cambridgeshire District Council, controlled by the Liberal Democrats, has been particularly in the firing line, with local government minister, Lee Rowley writing to the council leader in the summer to “ask that you end your experiment immediately”. The council is involved in the biggest UK trial and says the evidence so far is very positive. It has struggled in the past with staff recruitment and retention, for instance, and says that has improved. The BBC published a story in the last few days saying a report to the council said staff turnover has reduced by 36% and sickness by 33%, that staff recruitment has risen particularly for challenging roles. The trial has also led to a decrease in agency staff covering vacancies and complaints. The Conservative opposition leader questioned the reliability of the data. The trial will undergo a full review of its effectiveness once it concludes.
The Conservative media and supporters have questioned the data, which is being reviewed by academics at the University of Cambridge after the Taxpayers Alliance requested email exchanges on the process through a Freedom of Information request. It pointed to changes in the press release on the interim outcomes by the council, but Cambridge researchers say these are trivial changes, such as pointing out typos, corrections to English and correcting ambiguities which made no difference to the conclusions and should be seen against the growing evidence from other trials in the private sector and in the US and Ireland which point to similar conclusions.
Cambridgeshire District Council is so far holding firm, although it said the trial would be stopped if there was a downturn in the council’s performance. It has convened a special meeting on November 20th to discuss the Government’s call to discontinue the trial. Any decision must be based on the evidence rather than political ideology. It is worrying that the Government is wading in with no proof at a time when employees are crying out for greater work life balance and alternatives to traditional working hours and patterns. It suggests an opposition based solely on ideology and that flexible and alternative ways of working are becoming yet another pawn in the culture wars game, aimed only at sowing division rather than addressing the very real recruitment and retention problems facing many employers, particularly in the public sector.