Defra staff ask bosses to launch four-day-week trial

Petition seeks 20% reduction in hours with no impact on wages
2 Marsham Street, where Defra has its headquarters Photo: Google Maps

By Jim Dunton

08 Dec 2023

Civil servants working at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have submitted a petition calling for bosses to trial a four-day week for staff.

The bid is backed by the PCS union and the 4 Day Week Campaign and seeks a pilot scheme that would run across the entire department to test benefits to productivity and staff welfare in what would be a first for the UK civil service.

PCS, which is the civil service’s biggest union, said its proposal would involve a 20% reduction in working hours for staff with no loss of wages. The ask comes at a time when ministers are seeking to increase the amount of time officials spend in their workplaces, with new demands for 60% of the working week to be spent in offices or other formal locations rather than working from home.

General secretary Mark Serwotka said the four-day week was growing in popularity in both the public and private sectors and evidence suggested reduced hours led to a better work-life balance for staff and could improve productivity for employers.

“Previous trials have led to a reduction in sick leave and improvements to staff retention and satisfaction,” he said.

“If Defra wants to seriously address the issues of employee burnout, stress and poor wellbeing they will listen to our members and implement this pilot.”

PCS is calling for the department to conduct a trial among more than 21,000 staff including the core department and most agencies.

The bid does not cover the Environment Agency but does include the Rural Payments Agency, the Animal and Plant Health Agency, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, Natural England, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, the Marine Management Organisation, Kew Gardens, and the Forestry Commission.

Civil Service World understands the bid is not seeking a one-size-fits-all approach to four-day-week working at Defra. Instead PCS is keen to look at different ways models could be implemented depending on areas of work ranging from call centres to border work, field-work and office-based roles.

Civil Service World sought a response from Defra to the PCS petition.

A government spokesperson said: “There are no plans for this. Value-for-money should be provided to the taxpayer.”

The Scottish Government is due to begin trials of four-day-week working imminently. Civil servants at South of Scotland Enterprise started working to a new model of longer shifts spread over fewer days in October.

Last month, the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities issued a formal warning to South Cambridgeshire District Council over its refusal to stop its four-day working week trial. DLUHC has also issued guidance instructing any local authorities that had begun trialling a four-day working week to stop immediately.

Read the most recent articles written by Jim Dunton - Civil service spending on temporary staff hit £7.4bn last year

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