Covid could 'make Friday the new Saturday' as move to four-day working week gathers pace

Labour, under Jeremy Corbyn, previously pledged to shorten the average working week in the lead-up to the 2019 general election

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Belgian employees are able to work a four-day week after the government on February 14, 2022, agreed a new labour accord aimed at bringing flexibility to an otherwise rigid labour market.

The Spanish government are also launching a two-year trial in 2022, which will allow for up to 300 companies to reduce working hours.

Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said the coronavirus pandemic had forced people to work more flexibly and combine their private and working lives.

"This has led to new ways of working," he told a press conference.

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn proposed the policy in his electoral campaign in 2019. Picture date: Wednesday August 18, 2021.
Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn proposed the policy in his electoral campaign in 2019. Picture date: Wednesday August 18, 2021.

Employees who request it can work up to 10 hours per day if trade unions agree, instead of the maximum 8 now, in order to work one day less per week for the same pay.

In the UK, Jeremy Corbyn wanted to launch a four-day working week in 2019.

The previous Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, launched the policy at the Labour Party conference back in September 2019.

Boris Johnson spoke out against the four-day week proposal, dubbing it a "crackpot plan" and stated that it would be "ruinous for the NHS".

Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced the four-day working week last month. John Thys/Pool via REUTERS
Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced the four-day working week last month. John Thys/Pool via REUTERS

Economist at Birkbeck University London, Pedro Gomes, has argued “Friday is the New Saturday: how a four‑day working week will save the economy".

Companies trialing a four-day week include Unilever, which is running a trial in New Zealand, and Japan's Panasonic which is aiming to offer the reduced weekly working timetable as an option for employees.

In Belgium, workers are also able to choose to work more during one week and less the following one, allowing people to better manage their work-private life, in case of co-parenting for example.

"I think that giving flexibility to employees is a great idea actually so you can organise yourself differently, maybe have a three day weekend, organise yourself if you have children, it's easier," 44-year-old musician Amaury Massion told Reuters TV.

The agreement also introduces the right to disconnect after normal working hours for companies with more than 20 employees.

It sets out new rules for so-called platform workers — people employed by internet platforms like Uber UBER.N — including new criteria for considering them employees.

Belgium aims at an employment rate of 80 percent for 2030, against 71.4 percent at the end of last year.