Experts take on the work issues of the 21st century

The following has not yet been verified. Please improve it by logging in and editing it. If you believe that is not sufficient to solve the problem, please discuss it with the community on the Talk Page. If you think that this article should be removed, please contact [email protected]

The Trades Union Congress (TUC), which represents most trade unions in England and Wales, called for the implementation of a four-day working week by the end of the 21st century at this year’s annual conference. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said this can happen if businesses are forced to share the profits from new technology and automation with the workforce. WikiTribune decided to ask two experts for their thoughts on TUC’s proposal, as well as other work related issues.

The answers below are from Cary Cooper, a professor at Manchester University’s Business School who has been described as the media’s first choice for comment on workplace issues, and Len Shackleton, of the right-wing think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs and Professor of Economics at the University of Buckingham.

WikiTribune: The TUC has called for the implementation of a four-day working week. Is this something that you support?

Cooper: If you take a look at the experiment done by the Swedish government in Gothenburg… they found the 30-hour week ones [employees] were more job satisfied, had less sickness absent days, and were more productive… We have the longest working hours in Europe of any country… and our productivity per capita is one of the lowest.

Shackleton: If it were to be made compulsory, it would be harmful to the economy and wouldn’t suit the many people who would prefer a different pattern of work (see what happened in France with the mandatory 35-hour week).

Do you think people would be productive enough to make up for the loss of the one day that they wouldn’t be working so that businesses wouldn’t be losing out?

Cooper: In the 1970s we had three major, major strikes of electric power workers, miners, and so on. We had so many of them that it got to the point where we could only give businesses three days of power a week… and the productivity per capita was the highest it’s ever been.

Shackleton: In some manufacturing sectors and office jobs, over time productivity might increase to make this feasible. But there are many jobs – heart surgeons, workers in care homes, firefighters, restaurant and hotel workers, bar staff etc – where work is required throughout the week and if you have a day off, somebody else has to be employed to do your job. You can’t bundle all your heart operations, or cooking meals, or putting out fires into MondayThursday only.

Do you think that people should be paid for doing work emails while commuting?

Cooper: Forty percent are doing their emails at night at weekends, and 25 percent are doing them while they’re on holiday… The French law says no manager can send an email to their subordinates, to their staff, out of office hours… It’s unenforceable, but it’s sending a message… if you start to pay people for the hours that they’re going to spend on their emails, you have to total them all up. And, boy oh boy, that would be an enormous cost to employers. Better to control it.

Shackleton: No. But sensible employers will have a protocol about responding to emails and what can reasonably be expected.

Do you think jobs which aren’t formally recognized, like being a carer for an elderly parent, should become paid?

Cooper: Yes… it’s also creating difficulty to our economy because the people who are caring  for other people are not working themselves. Somebody needs to pay them.

Shackleton: By whom? The taxpayer or the elderly parent? Should the same apply to parents of young children? It may be appropriate in some cases to provide benefits for carers but this is not ‘pay’ in the sense of a wage.

In 1930, John Keynes predicted that we’d have a 15-hour working week in the future. Why do you think we haven’t reached that?

Cooper: Harold Wilson talked about the white heat of technology in a speech he gave, predicting that by the year 2000 we’d be working 20-hour weeks – half the weeks we’re doing now. Actually, technology, in my view, has overloaded us more… look how much non-productive time people spend on their emails.

Shackleton: We could all have a 15-hour week if we were prepared to accept the living standards of the 1930s. Most people are not. Keynes imagined a future where people would sit around in drab clothes talking about relationships and painting pictures of each other like his Bloomsbury mates. In reality they want big cars, nice houses, fashionable outfits, lots of gadgets and holidays in Florida. Aren’t people awful?

One of the reasons the pay gap between men and women exist is because when women have children, they’re more likely to take maternity leave and return to part-time work, which means that they don’t get promoted as much on average and so they don’t end up in as many high jobs as men. How can we solve this and do you think paid paternity leave, like some of the Nordic countries do, is the solution?

Cooper: Well, paid paternity leave, or let’s just say parental leave pay, I think that’s really quite important. The gender pay gap is partly a consequence of discontinuous careers like you suggested – if women have to go have babies and then they come into the labor market later – and it’s also partly a function of women not being assertive enough about their comparative pay.

Shackleton: I don’t think this is something we should try to ‘solve’. While we should attempt to eliminate discriminatory employment practices, the pattern of male and female employment is to a large extent chosen by individuals. To attempt to make them conform to what some people see as an ideal is almost totalitarian in motive -‘we know what’s best for families’ –  and unlikely to work in practice. Even highly paid, and therefore costly, paternity leave is unlikely to have much impact.

Are you worried about automation and the effect that it’s going to have on jobs?

Cooper: No. I’ll tell you why no. Every time there’s a new technological development, we have the mantra of, ‘oh my God, there’s going to be wholesale job loss.’ And every time we don’t get it. The reason I don’t think AI [Artificial Intelligence], or whatever new technologies we get, will cause major job loss – there may be a transition period where there’s a bit of job loss, as we transition into a new technological era – but that technology will spawn a whole range of jobs we never even thought about.

Shackleton: No. This is just a new version of an old fear of change. In a free market, new jobs are continually created as tastes and aptitudes change. What we need to do is ensure that governments don’t mess up the job-creating process by excessive regulation.

What do you think bosses can do to make their employees happier in the workplace?

Cooper: What senior managers should do is ensure that the managers they hire, from shop floor to top floor, have emotional intelligence. That they are good people managers, not technicians. We promote too many people based on their technical skills and not their people skills. If you want to have a healthier work environment, you have to have people who manage people by praise and reward, not fault-finding, who allow them to work flexibly if they can, who recognize when they’re not coping, who don’t give them unmanageable workloads and who give them realistic deadlines.

Shackleton: The workforce in the UK is incredibly diverse and sensible employers will be aware of this and try to adapt their offer to different groups. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution that works with textile workers in Bradford, dealers in the City, farmworkers in Devon and teaching assistants in Glasgow, let alone with all the variations by age, gender, ethnicity, health status, sexual orientation etc.

  • TODO tags

      Is there a problem with this article? [Join] today to let people know and help build the news.
      • Share
        Share

      Subscribe to our newsletter

      Be the first to collaborate on our developing articles

      WikiTribune Open menu Close Search Like Back Next Open menu Close menu Play video RSS Feed Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Reddit Follow us on Instagram Follow us on Youtube Connect with us on Linkedin Connect with us on Discord Email us