Millions of Brits’ working week could be cut to 35 hours under a major proposal drawn up for the Labour Party.
A Labour government should aim to cut public sector workers’ hours down to the target within 10 years, the report says today.
The “sensible target” – similar to a legal limit set in France two decades ago – would then make NHS, Whitehall and council workers “the standard-setter for the whole economy”.
The radical blueprint was drawn up by economist Lord Skidelsky for Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, to look at ways of reducing working hours across the UK.
It is not yet Labour policy, but Mr McDonnell today vowed the party will “study and draw on” the document when planning for the future.
The report recommends the government should set up a Jobs Guarantee Programme – offering a fixed hourly rate to any jobseeker unable to find work, paid for by the state.
The scheme, overseen by a new Department of Employment, would be a “powerful lever to push down the average number of hours worked” across the UK, the report claims.
Meanwhile UK workers should be banned from opting out of the EU’s 48-hour-a-week working time directive, the report says.
And listed firms would be forced by law to forecast how new machinery changes the working hours of their staff.
The report also recommends “heavy investment” in the public sector, an echo of Labour’s commitment to invest £500bn over 10 years.
And it says specifics of working hours for private employees should be worked out sector by sector, with stronger “social partnership forums” to let employees, bosses, unions and government communicate about the future.
The report does not put a price tag on the proposals but admits they “will cost money”.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has not officially backed the measures in the 62-page report and they are not Labour Party policy.
However, the key ally of Jeremy Corbyn welcomed the report and said he would study its recommendations carefully.
Mr McDonnell said: “Something is very wrong with how the world of work has changed in recent years.
“Millions are working long hours, while others don’t get the regular hours they need.
“I’d like to thank Lord Skidelsky for his meticulously researched report which we will study and draw on when looking at how we can reduce the typical working week without loss of pay.”
In the report, Lord Skidelsky said working hours in the UK have largely stopped falling since the 1980s despite the rise of machinery and automation.
And he warned workers in the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark are all more productive than those in the UK despite working shorter hours.
Full-time employees in the UK work an average of 42.5 hours – higher than the EU average of 41.2 and longer than in any other EU nation except Greece or Austria.
A quarter (26%) of all self-employed full-time workers in the UK put in more than 45 hours a week, Lord Skidelsky’s report said.
The Crossbench peer is an emeritus professor of political economy at Warwick University and sits on the board of the Progressive Economy Forum think tank.
He wrote: “People should have to work less for a living.
“Having to work less at what one needs to do, and more at what one wants to do, is good for material and spiritual well-being.
“Reducing working time – the time one has to work to keep ‘body and soul alive’ – is thus a valuable ethical objective. It is also a much desired one.”