to read the 26-page introduction to Anna Coote's "Time on our Side," click on
Learning from other countries
Working hours have been reduced in different ways in different countries, with various motivations and effects. Over the last two centuries, as Anders Hayden points out, reductions have reflected a wide range of objectives: ‘higher quality of life for employees, creating and saving jobs, gender equality, reducing work-family conflicts, ecological sustainability, and workplace modernisation. ’There are often tensions between these goals. For example, where business interests predominate, work time
reduction may lead to the same amount of work being compressed into fewer hours, or to people having less choice over when they put in their hours. Such arrangements may reduce ‘time poverty’ but they
would be unlikely to improve quality of life or to reduce work-family conflicts.
What is striking from Hayden’s review of working time across Europe is the wide variety of arrangements and trade-offs, responding to different pressures and interests. Some enhance workers’ own needs for flexibility, choice and security; others give the advantage to employers.
Some privilege particular groups of employees at the expense of others. Some are negotiated, others imposed by law. Some are more likely than others to reduce GHG emissions, or to retain skilled employees in the workforce, or to improve gender equality. In short, social justice,
environmental sustainability and a flourishing economy are possible consequences of paid working hours, but not inevitable. It all depends on how it’s done. And there are plenty of real-life examples - of good and bad practice – from which we can learn.
The French experience of a 35-hour week is a case in point. This was introduced by the two ‘Aubry’ laws (named after the then Minister for Employment, Martine Aubry) in 1998 and 2000...