Cooking the Books 2 – No such thing as free shorter hours
The Times (6 June) reported that ‘more than 3,000 workers will begin a four-day week today with no loss of pay as part of a trial involving 70 companies’. The companies concerned ‘are testing the effect of offering 100 per cent of a job’s pay in exchange for 80 per cent of the time and a commitment to keep up 100 per cent of output.’
The six-month trial has been organised by the UK branch of 4 Day Week Global which promotes a four-day week as a business strategy calculated to increase productivity and the ‘wellbeing’ of the workers which will also increase productivity:
‘Adopting a four-day work week is a business improvement strategy centered on working smarter rather than longer, and investing in the wellbeing of the most important asset to any business – your people (…) The four-day work week has been proven to deliver increased productivity in businesses all over the world in a broad range of industries’ (www.4dayweek.com/why-pilot).
Many, perhaps most, people would like to work only four days a week and have a three-day weekend. However, they might not necessarily like the conditions in the experiment to ‘keep up 100 per cent of output’.
What this involves is easy to work out. If you are on £26,000 a year take-home pay, your weekly pay will be £500. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the rate of exploitation is 100 percent, then you produce output worth £1,000 in a week (your pay plus an equivalent amount of surplus value – that’s why you are a business’s ‘most important asset’). When you work a 5-day 7-hour week (35 hours) you produce £28.58 worth of output in a day. With a 4-day 7-hour week (28 hours) this goes up to £37.72. An increase of 25 percent.
Having to work 25 percent harder means that you will use up the energy represented by your labour-power quicker and so will need more rest to restore it, ready to commence the next week’s harder labour. You are going to need that extra day.
One of those taking part in the experiment, Kirsty Wainwright, the general manager of a fish and chip shop in Norfolk, was reported as saying: ‘Having that extra rest and not feeling exhausted means I can be more productive at work too.’
She has got it the wrong way around. It is having to be more productive at work that means she will require the extra rest, and she is being overoptimistic if she expects that she is not going to be more exhausted at the end of each of the days that she works than she is now. She will be because she will have had to use up more of her energy per day than previously.
Maybe she and the others will consider that working harder to get more time away from employed work is a price worth paying. Historically, workers have accepted this deal, as when the working week was reduced from 6 to 5½ and then to the 5 days it mostly is now. So maybe they will too if the 4-day week catches on.
Under capitalism the ideal for workers would be to work fewer days without having to work harder during them. But no employer will accept that as it would reduce their profit. Under capitalism working harder will always be the price for working fewer hours. Employers are not philanthropists.