Scotland moving to a four-day working week in the civil sector

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4 - Day working week

The Scottish First Minister, Humza Yousaf, is anticipated to announce on Tuesday that Scottish government agencies will initiate a pilot project of a four-day workweek later this year.

The pilot project, to be revealed as part of Yousaf’s presentation of his government’s legislative agenda for the upcoming year, would mark the first instance of civil servants in the UK testing a shorter workweek and one of the firsts in the world.

Sources within the Scottish government have indicated that the initial trials will be conducted by public sector agencies that operate independently from ministerial departments. Scotland’s business enterprise agencies have expressed interest in participating in this initiative.

The idea of implementing a four-day workweek has garnered significant political support, including from Scottish Labour and the Welsh government. However, up to now, only the South Cambridgeshire district council has introduced pilot projects to experiment with this concept, achieving some success.

South Cambridgeshire initially launched a three-month pilot, which was later extended to a year and expanded to include not only office-based staff but also refuse workers. The council reported that the pilot led to increased staff retention and cost savings.

In February 2022, Belgium became the first European country to enact legislation permitting a four-day workweek. This innovative law, which took effect on November of the same year, granted Belgian employees the option to complete their regular workweek in just four days, maintaining their usual salary, as opposed to the conventional five-day workweek. This change didn’t result in reduced working hours; instead, employees were allowed to consolidate their work hours into fewer days.

In Wales, the Petitions Committee within the Senedd (Welsh parliament) issued a recommendation that the Welsh government initiate a pilot programme for civil servants. This recommendation came after the publication of a report exploring the concept. Spain also launched a pilot project in December.

Iceland has emerged as a pioneer in the implementation of a four-day workweek. From 2015 to 2019, the country conducted the world’s most extensive pilot programme, wherein the standard 40-hour workweek was reduced to 35 to 36 hours, all without any corresponding reduction in wages. Approximately 2,500 individuals participated in this testing phase. The test was a success, prompting Icelandic trade unions to negotiate for a reduction in working hours.

The Scottish initiative is expected to be one of several new policies that Yousaf will unveil in his government’s agenda on Tuesday. These policy announcements are aimed at revitalizing both the government and the Scottish National Party (SNP) after a challenging period following Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation as First Minister in February. Yousaf has faced open dissent from SNP parliamentarians, making him the first SNP leader in decades to do so, narrowly winning the leadership contest against Kate Forbes. Forbes and her supporters have openly criticized the Scottish government’s cooperation agreement with the Scottish Green Party, which has resulted in several significant policy reversals in areas such as inshore fisheries conservation and a national bottle-deposit scheme.

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