Sector scepticism over four-day working week

By Rhys Handley, Monday 10 September 2018

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Printers are hesitant to embrace a four-day working week, an idea being mooted by the TUC as way workers could benefit from increases in productivity driven by technological advances.

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O'Grady: four-day week could lead to "better, richer lives" for workers

According to TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, the shift to a four-day week is the next logical step in its push for “better and richer lives” for workers, and can be delivered through robotics and greater automation.

Speaking to the organisation's 2018 Congress in Manchester this morning (10 September), O’Grady urged the government to act to help people work fewer hours for the same salary.

According to some surveys, British employees work more hours on average than those in Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark – some of which are seeing the four-day week rise in prominence – and 1.4 million British workers now work all seven days of the week.

However, BAPC (British Association for Print and Communication) chair Sidney Bobb was unsure that benefits would translate well to the print sector, nor that staff would be able to afford a third day of leisure in the week.

“We are an industry of SMEs and micro-businesses – the companies I represent tend to be organisations of about 10 staff,” he said. “For these sorts of companies, it is vital to keep production going all the time and for that they need all their staff working a full week.

“It is a complete change of culture and implementing it would be expensive, which the state of business in our sector at the moment would not support. I can see some of the larger print companies, who have a surplus of staff, starting to implement this first and then it would filter down to the smaller businesses.

“But there are a lot of widespread factors that must be considered, such as how much this would cost the employer, and cases should be looked at individually before making the jump – we already have a shortage of skilled operators to take into account.”

The proposition was met with apprehension by print companies in the UK. Glasgow book printer Bell & Bain managing director Stephen Docherty said the UK was not in fit shape for such a radical change.

He said: “It is a magical idea but the country is not doing that well and manufacturing especially is a struggling sector trying to make ends meet. I would love to give everybody a four-day working week, but I do not think we are ready.

“I think I would also suggest a reduction in the cost of living might relieve stress in a similar way so the government could look at that.

“However, we work with a lot of time-sensitive jobs and really these would not accommodate a shorter working week.”

Atlas Direct Mail in Burgess Hill said such a significant shift in the structure of its working week would be detrimental.

Managing director Chris d’Entrecasteaux said: “All the work we do is reactive and in reality, that does not support any kind of four-day week.

“If we split our team in two, with half working Monday to Thursday and the other half Tuesday to Friday, there would be two days a week where certain skills are missing, and we would essentially become a skeleton crew. We need to turn things around within a matter of days and all this would do is increase stress.

“You can already see the stress in the rush to get things done ahead of a bank holiday weekend. One thing we are looking at is making bank holidays normal working days and then giving them back to our staff in lieu as a different way to relieve stress.

“As with most printers, you invest money in printing machinery and frankly you want it running constantly otherwise it is not worth the investment, so a four-day week does not work with that in mind.”

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