7. Debate on the Petitions Committee Report — 'From Five to Four? P-06-1247 Support trials of a four-day week in Wales'

– in the Senedd at 4:40 pm on 10 May 2023.

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Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 4:40, 10 May 2023

(Translated)

Item 7 today is a debate on the Petitions Committee report, 'From Five to Four? P-06-1247 Support trials of a four-day week in Wales'. I call on the Chair of the committee to move the motion. Jack Sargeant.

(Translated)

Motion NDM8257 Jack Sargeant

To propose that the Senedd:

Notes the report of the Petitions Committee, ‘From Five to Four? P-06-1247 Support trials of a four-day week in Wales’, which was laid in the Table Office on 24 January 2023.

(Translated)

Motion moved.

Photo of Jack Sargeant Jack Sargeant Labour 4:41, 10 May 2023

Diolch yn fawr, Deputy Presiding Officer, and I'm delighted to be able to have the opportunity to lead this debate today and to speak to the Petitions Committee report looking into a four-day week trial.

The report follows a petition submitted by Mark Hooper from 4 Day Week Cymru. The petition calls for four-day working week trials in Wales in order to explore its impact and whether this could be considered as a possible approach in the future. The report built on the work being done by businesses and campaigners who've undertaken and supported trials. While this petition specifically called for a public sector trial, it is in fact the private sector that have carried the torch for a four-day week, with trials already taking place in companies across the UK. Deputy Presiding Officer, we took evidence from the 4 Day Week Campaign, which has supported those private sector and third sector trials, and the standout fact was that a four-day week had a positive impact on productivity.

Now, it is important, especially for policy makers, to come to any subject with an open mind and to listen to the evidence in front of us. Many sectors across the United Kingdom are saying the same thing: staff retention and recruitment is a real problem. This cannot be ignored and the solution cannot lie in pushing workers to do more hours for falling real-terms wages. It is my view, Deputy Presiding Officer, that we should be brave enough and bold enough to follow the evidence and be part of the growing moves to start a four-day week trial. We don't have all the levers to do this, but we are able to conduct a public sector trial to help further this conversation.

I would at this point, Deputy Presiding Officer, like to mention that, on this occasion, we have not, as a cross-party committee, been able to reach a cross-party consensus, but have included, in our report, a minority view from Conservative Member Joel James. And I'm grateful to Joel for raising those concerns during our inquiry, and I'm sure we'll hear more during his contribution today. But, as a student of history, Deputy Presiding Officer, they struck me as being remarkably similar to those concerns by those who opposed the introduction of a five-day week and paid holiday leave, to name a few. Maybe these similarities are something those opposing a four-day week trial should reflect on, and I would urge them to engage with those private sector companies and employers who have carried out successful trials across the United Kingdom. Deputy Presiding Officer, the well-being of the people of Cymru is, and should be, always a priority for us as Members of the Senedd.

During our inquiry, we also heard how Iceland trialled a reduction in working time back in 2015, and the results were described as an overwhelming success. Alongside better work-life balance and better mental well-being, reducing the number of days at work also reduces air pollution and carbon emissions and contributes to our response to climate change. It also can enable better shared childcare and improved gender equality for women, who traditionally undertake more childcare responsibilities in families.

Deputy Presiding Officer, as a committee, we recommended that the Welsh Government conduct a pilot, liaising with organisations that have undertaken pilots to reduce working hours and that have implemented them for their own staff. This is a bold step, but one we should not be afraid of. The world of work is changing, and while change is sometimes hard, hard is not a reason to not do it. I am pleased that the Welsh Government has responded positively to our recommendations and is working with the workforce partnership council to consider the issue in hand.

This is the right approach, Deputy Presiding Officer. We have embarked on a social partnership model in Wales, and we should be using it to discuss this and any other changes to the way we work. There is a need to challenge our current work practice and culture and explore new ways to improve productivity and quality of life for our workforce. We cannot face the future saying that we are unwilling to change and respond to the challenges of the labour market. 

I very much look forward to hearing the contributions of other Members this afternoon, both of the committee and of the Senedd, and, of course, the Minister’s response. This change is growing in momentum, not only in Wales but across the world, from Iceland to New Zealand. It was only last week that Senator Bernie Sanders called for a 32-hour week in the United States.

Dirprwy Lywydd, Cymru cannot fall behind and should be bold enough to change. I am delighted that the Welsh Government are taking this to the workforce council and look forward to its progress. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Photo of Joel James Joel James Conservative 4:46, 10 May 2023

In the first instance, I find it very difficult to justify going forward with this pilot, because I cannot see why potentially tens of millions of pounds of public money should be spent on something that the Welsh Government does not have legislative competence to roll out wholesale. As we all know, we have some very big challenges here in Wales that, in my mind, are much higher priorities to spend public money on. Do we really want to spend this money on helping a select few when we should be looking at improving educational attainment, improving access to hospital, dental and GP appointments, and improving employment outcomes? Indeed, Dirpwy Lywydd, two of the major issues for residents living in my region are air quality and chronic illness, and spending money on pet projects such as this, when we have so many other pressing needs, is ridiculous, and, quite frankly, a dereliction of duty.

What is more, if a four-day working week was actually implemented without a cut in pay in the public sector in Wales, it would simply be a 20 per cent pay rise for a third of the in-work population in Wales at the expense of the rest of the working population in the private sector, who actually generate the money to pay for public services. This is grossly unfair and it would also create a two-tier working environment, where private companies—primarily small and medium-sized businesses that could not afford to match these working hours—would find it disproportionately hard to recruit and retain staff. 

I can see how working fewer hours can be positive to some people's personal health and well-being, but the idea of imposing a strict four-day working week is extremely limiting, because it cannot be rolled out across all sectors without taking on more staff to keep the same level of public service. The cost to the public purse, as already highlighted, would also be truly enormous. Studies have shown that, where four-day working weeks have been adopted, a 20 per cent drop in availability of public services causes more harm than good for the rest of the population. Proponents of the four-day working week, in my mind, are blinded to the negatives of such an approach because they can only perceive overwhelming positives.

We have to bear in mind that the four-day working week approach has been trialled extensively, and, whilst it has worked for some, it most certainly hasn't worked for everyone. Indeed, I think I could spend the entirety of the time allocated to this debate explaining why introducing a four-day working week trial is not only short-sighted, but doesn't achieve the outcomes that it claims, and cite studies right across the world, including Japan, Belgium, the United States, where these trials have categorically failed. But unfortunately, Dirprwy Lywydd, I only have five minutes.

Many people have found that the push to complete the amount of work in four days instead of five has led to a considerable drop in teamwork and collaboration, as employees are so focused on getting their tasks done in a tighter time frame, and it has made workloads overall less manageable. Moreover, younger people starting out in their careers will have considerably less opportunity to network with colleagues and get to know those people who will be instrumental in their careers. This damages potential for their future. This is heightened more by the sheer amount of public sector workers who are still working from home.

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour 4:50, 10 May 2023

Thanks for giving way. I just wonder what your thoughts would be on Sony Pencoed. Sony Pencoed don't operate a four-day week—they operate a four-and-a-half day week. They finish early on Fridays, and always have done for years, because they've seen the increase in productivity and the attraction in terms of recruitment to young people. Do you think they are missing something here?

Photo of Joel James Joel James Conservative

My view has always been that if the private sector want to do this, they're fully entitled to, but if it's the public purse, I think there are higher priorities that we should be spending our money on.

While the loss of those soft skills may seem like a negligible point to some people, they are in fact essential for workers in many industries. It seems obvious to me that this drive for wholesale shorter hours has many potential disadvantages that are just being ignored.

Furthermore, I find two aspects of the justification for introducing a four-day working week quite bizarre—firstly, that it should be introduced because high numbers of workers would support such a change. This is specious reasoning. Who in their right mind wouldn’t take a reduction in working hours for the same pay? This is ultimately an invalid argument to justify a four-day working week.

Secondly, there is the idea that this productivity gain will essentially allow workers to reduce their hours, but there are so many different ways of measuring productivity depending on the type of work people are doing that there’s no standardisation across the workplace, so a trial will not accurately produce any meaningful data that could be extrapolated across all sectors. What I mean here is that the productivity of a teacher would be measured differently to that of a nurse, and this would be measured differently to a council employee processing job applications, for example—and so on.

In addition, there are also many external factors that affect productivity that cannot be controlled by an organisation, which means that 90 per cent workforce productivity one week could easily look like 60 per cent productivity the following week. What also concerns me is that higher productivity for prolonged periods also leads to burn-out and people enjoying their jobs less. We have seen this in the NHS with the COVID pandemic; this drive to work people harder for shorter periods is just not conducive to a healthy working life.

I’m conscious of the time, Dirprwy Lywydd, so I’ll just close. Whilst I and my group will note the report today, in truth I believe that what we need in our workforce is additional flexibility given to employees throughout the working day to help them better balance the needs of family and health and to make work and the working environment a more positive aspect within people’s lives. Thank you.

Photo of Luke Fletcher Luke Fletcher Plaid Cymru 4:52, 10 May 2023

First, I'd like to thank the clerks for putting the report together, to thank the Chair for his diligent chairing of our evidence sessions, as well as the petitioner, Mark Hooper, who I know is really passionate about this particular cause. 

There have been a number of changes and considerations in recent years around why we need to rethink the world of work. COVID, of course, was the biggest influence, but even post pandemic we see emerging challenges through automation and artificial intelligence. These are changes that are coming, they're going to happen, so it's important now for us to rethink our day today, and it's important that everyone benefits from these changes to the workplace, not just the companies who will ultimately benefit on the back of reduced labour costs and, therefore, the workers. I know it's a scary proposition to have to think about a different way of doing business, but the Chair pointed out that doing something that's hard isn't a reason not to do something, and I'd add to that that doing something scary is not a reason not to do something. Let's be clear: no move to a four-day work week should mean a reduction in pay or workplace rights. 

The benefits of reorienting to a four-day working week are becoming ever more apparent. It is unsurprising in this respect that the model has become increasingly popular since Plaid Cymru led a debate on this issue back in September 2021. For example, we've heard about Iceland—well, on Iceland, following a nationwide trial from 2015 to 2019, nearly 90 per cent of the working population are now on reduced hours or other accommodations. A 2022 trial involving 12 Irish companies yielded similar positive results. Nine of those 12 companies have committed to continuing with a four-day work week schedule, while the other three have provisional plans to follow suit.

In the UK, a recent trial of the four-day working week, involving 2,900 employers in a wide range of sectors, led to 91 per cent of the participating organisations opting to continue the arrangements, and a 35 per cent average boost in revenues. The feedback from employees also conclusively affirmed the well-being benefits that can arise from the four-day working week model. Those surveyed as part of the Irish scheme reported significant reductions in stress, burnout, fatigue and work-family conflict. 

Photo of Joel James Joel James Conservative 4:55, 10 May 2023

Thank you for taking the intervention. I think that you cited the Iceland trial, but also the UK trial. But you know that, with the UK trial, those companies—. You mentioned that there was a wide range of companies. I would hasten to add that I don't necessarily think that there was. They were all in similar employment areas, in terms of financial services, IT industries. Don't you foresee that there is an issue, then, in rolling that out into other companies—small and medium-sized enterprises? With the Iceland model, that wasn't necessarily a four-day working week. That was just bringing their hours in line with the rest of Europe. So, I think that there's an issue, to be using that as a four-day example. 

Photo of Luke Fletcher Luke Fletcher Plaid Cymru 4:56, 10 May 2023

Thanks for that intervention, Joel. It's for the exact reason that you set out there that we are asking for a pilot here. We are asking for a pilot in the public sector. There also is further work that needs to be done around a pilot in other sectors as well, in the private sector. The challenges are going to be very clear as these pilots roll out. As I mentioned before, yes, it is a scary concept to move to something that we are not used to. But again, through the pilots, we can understand whether or not this is the right way forward for us. I tend to believe that it is.

Those surveyed, of course, in the Irish scheme reported significant reductions in stress, burnout, fatigue and work-family conflict. They also reported, actually, an increase in average sleep, from 7 hours a night to 7.72 hours a night. That might not sound like a massive increase, but I think that a lot of us in this Chamber would appreciate an extra 0.72 hours of sleep. There was more time spent doing hobbies, which includes exercise, and a greater inclination for pro-environmental behaviour. The UK trial also demonstrated potential benefits in terms of workforce retention, with 50 per cent of employees indicating that they would be less likely to quit their jobs if a four-day working week was implemented on a permanent basis. And in terms of productivity, there was a 49 per cent improvement across all employees. 

The case for introducing a pilot scheme here in Wales is overwhelming, and we wholeheartedly support the recommendations of the Petitions Committee to the Welsh Government in this respect. We hope that a pilot among the public sector can inform more comprehensive initiatives, which can extend into the private sector in future. I think that it is promising that the Government is going to explore the possibility of a pilot via the workforce council, and rightly so. It's important that we have trade unions feed into this particular project, but the work needs to happen sooner.

I will end, Dirprwy Lywydd, by not only reiterating the call for a public sector pilot. I would also like to see a particular move by us here in the Senedd to look at our own offices. I am now currently exploring the opportunity of piloting a four-day work week in my office, and I would welcome Members' support in doing that here today as well. 

Photo of Rhys ab Owen Rhys ab Owen Plaid Cymru 4:58, 10 May 2023

(Translated)

In an article for Nation.Cymru before I was elected, I suggested that we should think about the new Wales that we wanted after the lockdown and how we could go about creating a fairer society. A number of people often talk about John Maynard Keynes's views back in the 1930s, that we would be working far fewer hours by the year 2000 because of technology. But that didn't happen. It happened until the 1970s, but then it came to a sudden stop. Post-COVID-19, it appears that a number of people are working more hours than they were before the pandemic.

Photo of Rhys ab Owen Rhys ab Owen Plaid Cymru 4:59, 10 May 2023

During the pandemic, what was considered unique beforehand became the norm, and what was considered ordinary became otherwise. History has shown that things considered unthinkable can quickly become the status quo. We must take this opportunity, in 2023, to consider and discuss what appeared impossible at the beginning of 2020. This is why I believe that the Welsh Government must develop a pilot to reduce working hours within the devolved public sector, with no loss of pay for employees. This isn't a revolutionary concept, despite what others across the Siambr feel and say. This week, everybody across the UK had a four-day week. The only times that the Tories haven't complained about a four-day week are when we have royal celebrations. Well, if it's good enough for then, what about good enough for every week?

The Tories have opposed many improvements that we now take totally for granted. They opposed the expanding of the vote to the working classes, they opposed weekends, they opposed bank holidays, they opposed minimum wage, and now they are trying to restrict the right to strike after already restricting the right to vote in England. So, it is no surprise that the Conservatives should oppose this common-sense approach. However, it is a real shame that the Welsh Government, in their response to the petition started by Councillor Mark Hooper, have said that they have no plans to develop a pilot. This pilot would include a reduction to the maximum working week from 48 hours to 32 hours.

Gweinidog, is it time now to think differently about this issue? Think of the contrast you will make with Conservative Ministers in Westminster, those who, according to the right-wing press today, want to overhaul the EU working time directive that limits many workers to 48 hours a week on average.

Photo of Rhys ab Owen Rhys ab Owen Plaid Cymru 5:01, 10 May 2023

(Translated)

The minority report by the committee argues that the Senedd does not have the legislative competence to legislate in this field. This surprises me a great deal. And, has the Minister received legal advice on this matter? The minority report states that:

'The arguments for the four-day working week are not supported by sufficient research data on improving productivity'.

But without a pilot, how can we secure these data? What do we have to lose from not holding a pilot? I can't understand the argument that a small pilot could cause division and injustice in our society. I don't understand the argument. And, as the Chair of the committee suggested in opening the debate, the same argument could have been deployed against weekends and bank holidays.

As Luke Fletcher said—he organised a panel event back in March, and the event was very interesting—the statistics shared by Dr David Frayne from Cambridge University were staggering. These results showed that 56 of the 61 companies that took part are continuing with a four-day working week—92 per cent of those companies. The four-day working week can succeed in every sector, including the care sector, where there is a need for care to be provided 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Indeed, a four-day working week could make certain sectors much more attractive than they currently are.

Photo of Rhys ab Owen Rhys ab Owen Plaid Cymru 5:03, 10 May 2023

To return to the public sector, a recent trial in South Cambridgeshire District Council saw performance being maintained over the three-month period of the trial. The survey data has also shown that the trial has been overwhelmingly positive for staff. If the public sector can do it in South Cambridgeshire, a district council with far less power than the Senedd, why not Wales?

The status quo is not sustainable for improving productivity, to deal with the recruitment crisis and retention issues within many sectors in Wales. Indeed, we are often reminded of these problems by Conservative colleagues in the Siambr. Why not support, therefore, a small trial to see if a four-day week can be part of the solution?

The workers in Ebbw Vale paved the way for the NHS and inspired Aneurin Bevan. They didn’t wait for a pilot elsewhere. Robert Owen from Newtown started the co-operative movement—

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 5:04, 10 May 2023

(Translated)

Rhys, you have to conclude now.

Photo of Rhys ab Owen Rhys ab Owen Plaid Cymru

—he didn’t wait to see if others succeeded first. And the same is true about Lloyd George and Jim Griffiths. What we are suggesting, as a committee, is not radical, it is a pilot, it is a trial—a trial that I am sure will spark many more debates, but would, at the very least, give the data that the Tories are requesting. Diolch yn fawr.

Photo of Alun Davies Alun Davies Labour

I'm grateful to you, Deputy Presiding Officer. It's always a pleasure to follow on from Rhys ab Owen, and the arguments that he was making. I think it's important—I don't often contribute to many of these debates on a Wednesday afternoon—but I think it's important that we actually use this opportunity to share some experience and to share what we have found in our lives and the experience that we bring to these things. And one of the things that I've found, living through the pandemic and the changes that we've seen to the way in which we work, is that, when we look at the future, it's going to be very different to the past, and we need to be far more flexible and far more creative in how we meet these new challenges. 

I listened to Joel James speaking in his remarks earlier. I thought that he was going to end his speech by opposing the 1833 factory Act, because he seemed to object to every single progressive piece of legislation that we've seen in recent years that improves the lives of people. And, do you know—I don't know what experience you have, Joel—but I've been a senior manager in businesses, I've been a senior manager in public bodies and I've run my own business, and I've had to recruit people, and I've had to demonstrate why they should work for me and with me rather than working for them, or our competitors. I've had to actually demonstrate how we can build a business and run a business. I don't know what experience you have, but let me tell you this: the most important resource any business has is the people that it employs, the knowledge they acquire and the productivity that they deliver. And when I've been recruiting people—in the real world, Joel—when I've been going out to adverts and asking people to work with me, for me and employ people, what I've been trying to do is to put together a package that provides them with the opportunity to do what they wish to do as well as delivering for the business that we are running. And what that tells me is that the package that you put together—

Photo of Alun Davies Alun Davies Labour 5:05, 10 May 2023

Yes, I will take it, but allow me to finish the sentence.

The package that you put together today will always include flexibility, it will always include hybrid working and it will always include potential for people to live their own lives in the way they choose, as well as contributing towards the business.

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies Conservative 5:07, 10 May 2023

Thanks, Alun. I appreciate you giving way. I think what we're talking about here is piloting a four-day working week within the public sector—that's what we're talking about. Do you realise that a lot of public sector workers are on flexi time and that, sometimes those hours that you're advocating to be implemented can actually be achieved under the current flexi-time scheme that a lot of local authorities offer? And, of course, you are a former Minister of that department.

Photo of Alun Davies Alun Davies Labour

Well, of course I know that the public sector operate flexi—I've done it myself. The emphasis for me in this debate is actually on flexibility, rather than saying, 'Rather than a five-day week, you'll do a four-day week', for example. Certainly, I know many people—many constituents of mine—who would prefer to work shorter hours for five days a week in order to pick up children from school, for example. And that sort of flexibility enables them to live their lives as well as to contribute towards a business. 

So, for me, the emphasis here isn't simply on a dogmatic four-day week, it's on a level of flexibility that enables people to make the choices that they require in order to live the lives they choose within the structures of running a business and enabling that business to function. And I think one of the key things that, frankly, successive Labour Governments here, as well as Conservative Governments elsewhere, simply haven't addressed in recent years is that of productivity. Productivity is the biggest crisis facing the Welsh economy at the moment, the same as it is across the border in England. And I think, in addressing issues of productivity, we need to be far more creative, and simply coming to this debate this afternoon and saying, 'We are going to do nothing to move this debate forward rather than restate the experience of past generations', is an inadequate response to the challenges that we face and the opportunities that we have. 

What I want to see is an emphasis on the sort of society we want as well—a society—. Last week, the Conservatives were speaking about the importance of volunteering, the importance of people giving back to their communities, the importance of spending time as part of a community. Well, of course, you can only do that if you have the time available to do it, and by creating the time available to do it, you are enabling people to live in different ways and contribute more, but you recognise as well that a four-day week isn't suitable for everybody, for every business, for every employee and for every worker. So, what we need to do, and this is what I want to see—[Interruption.] If the Deputy Presiding Officer will allow—

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 5:09, 10 May 2023

The Member's already out of time. I've allowed a little bit of flexibility because of the first intervention. So, sorry, Joel. 

Photo of Alun Davies Alun Davies Labour 5:10, 10 May 2023

Okay. I would have taken the intervention—I'm sorry. But the point I would make, in conclusion, is that we've seen a revolution in working practices over the last three or four years. I believe that we need to invest in a sort of creative response to the challenges we will face in the future, and the creative response to respond to those challenges isn't delivered by restating a prejudice from where we were decades ago in the 1950s. We need to be far, far more creative in responding to where we're going in the future than the Conservatives have been in this debate, so a very disappointing contribution.

Photo of James Evans James Evans Conservative

I'm sorry that Alun Davies is disappointed; he might get even more disappointed by the time I've finished. But I'd like to thank the committee for—[Interruption.] I'd like to thank the committee for the report. I normally agree with Jack Sargeant on a number of issues, but I'm afraid I think he's a bit off the mark on this one, because I do not support a four-day working week.

Joel James highlighted some of these points earlier in the debate. Some sectors, if this went wider than just a public sector pilot, could not operate. There are huge issues with retention and recruitment of staff across industries; I pick construction as one of them. That industry is under a massive amount of pressure to get more people into that, but operating on a four-day working week, if it went wider than a pilot, I don't think is addressing that. What we need to see is the Government being more flexible to bring more people into the workforce—I see the Minister for Economy here—by offering more opportunities for young people to get into different sectors, to boost employment and opportunities, and also educational opportunities for people. That's how you address workforce challenges. You don't address them by making the working week shorter and putting more pressure on existing staff.

If this was in the public sector, I think our NHS would struggle if it went into there. We've heard Members from across the Chamber, from the Liberal Democrats, myself and others, saying about people getting a dentist appointment. If dentists had to operate on a four-day week, we would see fewer and fewer people being seen. We have people on waiting lists who cannot get operations, so we would have fewer operations being done if the NHS operated on a four-day working week. And also, what about GP appointments? You can't even get a GP appointment in Wales. We're going to see even less access to those vital public services that we need, and I see you sniggering, Alun, but that is the state that Welsh Labour have left our country in. You want to look at our schools; you'd put a four-day working week into schools. Our children lost enough time during the pandemic with not being in the classroom, and we cannot see a four-day working week with our teachers; we need our young people in the classrooms, learning those skills that will actually help them into employment, not implementing a four-day working week. It's just narrow-mindedness. The hospitality industry would massively struggle. This Welsh Labour Government seems to have an issue with the hospitality sector. They seem to tax them to death and bring rules and regulations in to hurt them, and a four-day working week would do exactly the same, and for an industry that is struggling, I don't think putting more barriers in place when it needs help is an opportunity to bring that. But—

Photo of James Evans James Evans Conservative

I will take an intervention from you, Mabon—why not?

Photo of Mabon ap Gwynfor Mabon ap Gwynfor Plaid Cymru

You're talking there about taxing the hospitality sector. Do you think that raising and increasing VAT from the UK Government has helped the hospitality sector?

Photo of James Evans James Evans Conservative

I'm in the Welsh Parliament, Mabon, as you are quite keen on, and I like to talk about Welsh issues, unlike the Welsh Government and yourself, who spend more time talking about issues on the other side of the M4. It's about time you started scrutinising this Government that's in front of you, rather than the one that's up in Westminster.

Photo of James Evans James Evans Conservative

Anyway, I'd like to thank the committee for all the work that they've done. I don't agree with a single thing that's being recommended in this report, but as I said, our group will support and note it, but we do not support a four-day working week. I want to commend Joel James for standing up for those businesses on there, and the people who do not support this silly, socialist policy.

Photo of Peredur Owen Griffiths Peredur Owen Griffiths Plaid Cymru 5:14, 10 May 2023

(Translated)

Thank you to the committee for bringing this debate forward this afternoon.

Photo of Peredur Owen Griffiths Peredur Owen Griffiths Plaid Cymru

It's great to have a chance to speak in this debate on a subject that is close to my heart. Last summer, thanks to Luke Fletcher's friend getting married and him having to attend that, I was able to attend a conference on his behalf in Valencia, funded by the local Valencian Government, on the merits of a four-day week. The evidence, drawn from local examples in Valencia as well as from other countries, like Iceland as we've heard earlier, was clear and compelling. I was left in no doubt that a four-day week was a win-win situation. It led to greater staff satisfaction, increased productivity, and improved welfare. What I was left lamenting was the lack of any examples from my own region.

I'm pleased to say that in the intervening period, I've been able to visit a workplace where a trial is currently being undertaken. Merthyr Valleys Homes began their trial some time ago, and the trial has recently been extended to gather more robust data over a longer period of time. The early indications are that the trial has, overall, been a positive experience for staff and tenants alike. Staff have been empowered to make more decisions on the best use of their time, and this led to greater efficiencies in the workplace, for both office and those working on the tools.

I therefore want to echo my support for the recommendations in this Petitions Committee report, and declare my hope that Welsh Government can respond in a positive manner, therefore catching up with some of our international counterparts, who are a few years ahead of us. 

Minister, I have one question: do you agree that productivity is not the same as attendance? And that is the crux of a four-day working week.

Photo of Jane Dodds Jane Dodds Liberal Democrat 5:15, 10 May 2023

As we've heard, the five-day work week was invented a century ago by the Ford Motor Company in 1926. At the time, the move to a five-day work week from a seven-day work week was seen as a lofty ideal that would negatively impact productivity. Well, it didn't. We are a century on and having that same debate now about things that, actually, we need to see as important in our lives, because productivity and making money is not everything it's supposed to be. Productivity and making money is not necessarily about happiness. That's about time spent with family and friends. It's about trust between each other. It's about working together. It's about well-being. And in many ways, I think the Welsh Parliament is about this, and I think the Welsh Government is about this, which is why I hope we will see a pilot for a four-day working week. 

I welcome the report. I thank the Petitions Committee for it. It sets out clearly the support for a four-day week, or reduced hours, and the results also, as we've heard in the evidence, of the world's biggest trial as well. The fact that 56 of the 61 companies that entered the UK trial have extended or even made permanent the new arrangements shows how popular it is. And it's important to dispel myths as well. This isn't just about office work that is used to a 9 to 5 pattern. The companies engaged in the trials included hospitality, care services and healthcare. So, it can work everywhere and anywhere. And I do thank my colleague, James Evans, for mentioning the work I've done on dentistry. That's really kind of you; thank you so much. But many dentists don't even work five days a week. Many of them work far, far fewer days, and it's surely about just increasing the pool of people within that sector—and including other health sectors as well—by attractive things that they can actually look at and think, 'I'd like to go and work there because they're offering this as an incentive for me to go', including the four-day working week.

In Cardiff, refuse collectors now work a four-day week. So, it's important to dispel that myth that it will only benefit the few. And the case is well made when we look at the world of work and the pilots that have happened. We see record levels of sickness, stress and burnout. Many people are, sadly, working longer hours, with more stress, and more work-related illness, and this is not what this is about. It's clearly about us reducing those. And I was glad to see and hear mention of South Cambridgeshire District Council being the first public sector organisation that has actually introduced it. I'd just like to remind everybody that South Cambridgeshire District Council is a Liberal Democrat-led council, so we are leading the way in the Liberal Democrats, in a progressive—[Interruption.]—in a progressive way of working, which is actually looking at not just extending the pilot, but making it more permanent and introducing it to other sectors in the district council as well.

So, let's not be scared, let's not be frightened, let's be progressive. Let's just see. I appeal to my colleagues across the Chamber: what is the problem with seeing whether this pilot can work, because that's all this is about? Thank you. Diolch yn fawr iawn. 

Photo of Carolyn Thomas Carolyn Thomas Labour 5:19, 10 May 2023

I'd like to thank Jack and the Petitions Committee for bringing this important debate to the Senedd today. At one time, the average working week was 37 hours a week, and, over time, it crept to 42 hours, then 47 hours a week. And over the last 12 years, the race to the bottom has continued, both in the public and private sector, pushing for further productivity while squeezing workers to their limit. I'm aware some people have 60- and 72-hour contracts in the health profession, and nurses told me they are doing 12-hour shifts, some day, some night, in the same week, with no consistency or flexibility, all of which negatively impacts on their health and also their sleep patterns and trying to cope with childcare. Royal Mail has shifted post delivery jobs so that rounds have been expanded to an average 13 miles a day, with no extra time added on, minimum contracted hours, with overtime frowned upon, and sick pay no longer automatic but challenged. It's no wonder they're leaving in droves. A family friend, a policewoman in England, has retired from that job because of the 12-hour shifts. They actually ended up being 14-hour days when she included driving to and from work, and impacted on her mental health.

The strikes have not just been about pay, they've been predominantly about working conditions and working hours, which has all been part of the race to the bottom to improve productivity and efficiency and keep prices low, but at what price to health? And it's not working. It is failing. People are now retiring in their 50s because, during COVID, they had time to revaluate and realise they'd had enough. And the UK is now a country that works some of the longest hours in Europe, but lags behind on productivity and fails to put the well-being of workers first. It needs to change. It's obviously not working. We're losing people from the public sector, so we need to have a change. We need to make jobs more attractive, as Jane Dodds said earlier.

Last year, the UK's four-day week trial showed that the well-being of workers dramatically improved, with levels of burnout reduced by 71 per cent. Business productivity and performance was maintained or improved, and job retention improved by 57 per cent. In Flintshire, street scene staff do a four-day working week, and, during COVID, it actually went to a three-day working week. Despite COVID, attendance was high, sickness was reduced, and the use of agency was cut down. Normally, they rely heavily on agency, because of sickness and impacts on their health doing 12-hour rounds—[Inaudible.]—sorry. So, financially, it actually made sense to cut even from four days to three days a week. So, I would support a four-day week trial in the public sector, and it would be lovely to see in the private sector as well. I would support reduced working hours as well for the same pay. After all, a happier workforce is a more productive workforce, which then impacts on families, health and society as a whole, and it needs to change. Thank you.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 5:22, 10 May 2023

(Translated)

I call on the Deputy Minister for Social Partnership, Hannah Blythyn.

Photo of Hannah Blythyn Hannah Blythyn Labour

(Translated)

Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd. I welcome this debate and I'm grateful to Members for their contributions.

Photo of Hannah Blythyn Hannah Blythyn Labour 5:23, 10 May 2023

I'm also grateful to my colleague and constituency neighbour Jack Sargeant and the Petitions Committee, which he chairs, for their considered interest in this issue, their informative report and the recommendations made by the majority of the committee. My response to those recommendations has been published by the committee, so the Deputy Presiding Officer and many others here will be relieved when I say I will not repeat in great detail the Government's response to each recommendation in the limited time I have available today.

What I do want to do, though, is emphasise the importance of social partnership in informing our approach to any pilot of a four-day working week here in Wales. This debate takes place during a second shorter week in a fortnight. Last week we marked May Day, an international recognition and a celebration of better working conditions. Indeed, workers helped win the weekend that many of us now take for granted, and workers, through their trade unions, should be front and centre of any future changes to working practices. That's why, with the agreement of the workforce partnership council, we have established a working group of that council. The working group has been tasked with exploring the issue of the four-day working work in social partnership, and brings together representatives from Government, employers in our devolved public services, and trade unions. I think it was Luke Fletcher who said this needs to happen sooner rather than later, and I'm pleased to report back that the group actually met for the first time on 26 April for what I believe was a very productive meeting, and it will meet again later this month.

It would be remiss of me to take any policy decisions on a pilot that would effectively pre-empt the group’s work, but Jack Sargeant said, in his opening remarks, about the importance of keeping an open mind on issues such as this, and I'd like to reassure that we genuinely have an open mind on this issue and will be guided by the work of the group.

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour

One of the things, of course, that the social partnership looks at, and the overall procurement framework that we have in Wales, is ethical and responsible employment beyond those who are within the public sector, but those who trade with the public sector and who are in the supply chain. I just wonder whether she'd encourage that group to look at the potential of those private sector organisations who wanted to, in an enabling framework, because we'd want to see people who took a progressive approach to the workforce and productivity.

Photo of Hannah Blythyn Hannah Blythyn Labour 5:25, 10 May 2023

Yes, absolutely. When we talk about fair work in Wales, that encompasses a range of factors, and I saw my colleague the economy Minister listening to your contribution with great interest then, and I'm sure it's something that we can explore further as a Government. But, just to reiterate, the workforce partnership council very much focuses on the public sector, but, clearly, there are other opportunities as we move forward. I wouldn't want to pre-empt any of the work of the social partnership council, but that might be the sort of thing they'd want to explore as part of looking at the future of fair work and working practices in Wales as part of that.

In terms of the pilot we're looking at and the work of the workforce partnership group, I very much recognise that colleagues in the Siambr want to see us move quickly to establish a pilot, but we're very much committed to this social partnership way of working, and I know Members here agree that it's vital that partners have a voice on issues like the four-day working week, given what it potentially means to both our public services and those who work hard day in, day out, to provide those services.

So, the intention is for the working group to report its findings to the workforce partnership council before the end of this year, however I very much recognise the level of interest in this issue for many, many Senedd Members, and indeed from other interested parties and organisations outside this place. So, that's why today I want to commit to continuing to work very closely with Members, and also to making a written statement before the summer recess. The hope is that this will provide a progress update on the work of the working group, and that, alongside that written statement, I will publish the group's terms of reference and membership in the hope that Members will welcome that transparency and that ongoing dialogue and input into the work of the group.

Finally, I want to make it clear that there is no question of a four-day week being imposed on employers and workers. We believe in social partnership and an equal voice for employers and workers in influencing these key decisions. Likewise, while there are, of course, no immediate pilots in the pipeline in Wales, it should not be taken that it's something that has been ruled out, but it's something that will rightly require consensus and that collective commitment to move in that direction. So, to do this, the working group will need to consider the opportunities, the risks, the barriers to a four-day working week pilot, and this could include issues around productivity, but also well-being, any potential unintended consequences, but also what that means for roles and resource in moving forward as well, and so delving really deeply into these issues will be key to the group making recommendations on both the feasibility and suitability of a four-day working week pilot in a devolved public service or services in Wales.

In closing, I commit again to keep Senedd Members updated on this important work as it progresses, and, once again, I want to put on record my thanks to Jack Sargeant as Chair, the Petitions Committee and the petitioner, Mark Hooper, for their work and to all those who provided evidence to the committee's inquiry. Diolch yn fawr.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 5:28, 10 May 2023

(Translated)

I call on Jack Sargeant to reply to the debate.

Photo of Jack Sargeant Jack Sargeant Labour

Diolch, Presiding Officer. Can I thank Members for their contributions, and particularly the Minister for her response? I think I speak for the majority of the Chamber by saying that I'm encouraged by the work that the Minister is doing, particularly with the workforce partnership council, and I look forward to hearing their conclusions later this year, but I'll also watch with interest the written statement, and I very much welcome that transparency that the Minister has agreed to do today.

I'm trying to touch on as many comments as I can, Presiding Officer, in the time that I have. Joel James: I do understand—perhaps I don't have the lottery numbers, Presiding Officer, but I predicted rather well the contribution of the Member—I understand fully that he has different views. I perhaps don't understand the rationale behind them and don't agree with them, but do want to thank Joel for his consistent collaboration as a member of our committee. In fairness to Joel, he does always put his points across.

Luke Fletcher, touching on the challenges that are in front of us with automation and AI—very real challenges, and, if we don't embrace the challenges ahead of us, we'll be very much behind the curve. I look to my constituency, Alyn and Deeside, which is the most at threat when it comes to automation and AI. We have to be very much alive to that issue.

Diolch yn fawr iawn to Jane Dodds, Carolyn Thomas, Peredur Owen Griffiths, and I think Huw Irranca and Mabon also made interventions in this debate as well. And the gist of those contributions, I think, was, 'Why not? Why not trial a public sector trial?' The Confederation of British Industry, actually, have said that, and that's very welcome to hear from the CBI.

Moving on. James. James, James, James, James, James. Construction. I'll pick on the point—. And, actually, James, I don't disagree with you when you say we should look for more opportunities, particularly for our young people, when it comes to the world of work. I don't disagree. That's an issue in front of us. What I separate from the issue is, I don't think introducing a four-day work week is a barrier for introducing opportunities for members. One could argue it's actually the other way around, and it's certainly two things that could work in partnership together. But just on your point, James, on construction—and I'll send you this after the debate—there's a blog by a director of Autodesk Construction Solutions, where she says, in the blog, Amanda Fennell:

'we're at a turning point to change perceptions of the industry. Now the only question is when, not how.'

And that's referring to a four-day week, so I think it would be of learning for you.

I can see we're pressed for time, Deputy Presiding Officer, but I will just end on the two contributions from Alun and Rhys. This is about the opportunity in front of us, this is about people. The former Minister told us about his experiences and said the most important resource for a business is its people. Well, this is a matter that could potentially benefit the lives of many workers in Wales, many people in Wales in more ways than we can imagine, and I would encourage everyone here to keep the well-being of our public at the heart of what we do and embrace the change in front of us. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 5:31, 10 May 2023

(Translated)

The proposal is to note the committee's report. Does any Member object? No. The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

(Translated)

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.