Friday 22 May 2020

Jacinda Ardern flags four-day working week as way to rebuild New Zealand after Covid-19

Prime minister says flexible working options can boost productivity and domestic tourism and improve work/life balance

New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern has suggested employers consider a four-day working week and other flexible working options as a way to boost tourism and help employees address persistent work/life balance issues.

In a Facebook live video Ardern said people had suggested everything from the shorter work week to more public holidays as a means to stimulate the economy and encourage domestic tourism, while the borders remain closed to foreign nationals.

The prime minister’s informal comments have excited New Zealanders, many of whom are questioning whether seismic, systemic change will result from the pandemic – or whether life will return to normal; with its associated problems.

Speaking from Rotorua, one of the country’s tourist hubs, Ardern said many New Zealanders said they would travel more domestically if they had more flexibility in their working lives. The country’s tourism market has taken a massive downturn after the pandemic, with all borders remaining closed to foreign nationals and many New Zealanders taking pay-cuts or tightening their belt in case of lay-offs.
People enjoy outside cafe dining at the Maunganui main beach in Tauranga after restrictions were eased. Photograph: Phil Walter/Getty Images

“I hear lots of people suggesting we should have a four-day workweek. Ultimately that really sits between employers and employees. But as I’ve said there’s just so much we’ve learnt about Covid and that flexibility of people working from home, the productivity that can be driven out of that,” Ardern said.

“I’d really encourage people to think about that if you’re an employer and in a position to do so. To think about if that’s something that would work for your workplace because it certainly would help tourism all around the country.”

Andrew Barnes is the founder of Perpetual Guardian, a business of more than 200 people that transitioned to a four-day workweek in 2018.

Barnes found the shift made his employees happier and more productive and said the regime also had benefits for mental and physical health, the environment, family and social lives, and climate change.

“New Zealand could definitely go to a four-day week in the aftermath of Covid, and in fact it would be a strategy to rebuild the economy and particularly the hard-hit tourism market as it pivots to a domestic focus,” Barnes said.

“We need to retain all the productivity benefits working from home has brought, including cleaner air and a lack of gridlock lost productivity from commuting while helping businesses stay afloat. 
We have to be bold with our model. This is an opportunity for a massive reset.”

Barnes said New Zealand could model its new way of work on the German system of kurzarbeit, meaning “short work”, allowing more people to stay in jobs and using the extra day to upskill or retrain.
“Finally, we have to factor in the need to address widespread mental health problems,” Barnes said.

“The Kindness Institute reported a 25% uptick in use of its services during lockdown, so we must understand that there has to be a focus on mental health in order to resurge economically. The 4 Day Week is a tool to protect the health of workers in every respect, making this model all the more relevant to the new world we find ourselves in.”

Tens of thousands of New Zealanders have been made redundant during the lockdown period, with building company Fletchers announcing 1000 lay-offs today.

The economy is expected to contract by up to 8% this year, the IMF has said, while unemployment figures could exceed 15%, and reach as high as 30%.

(Source: The Guardian)

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