Glen rejects four-day week proposal

PCS accuses minister of ‘political posturing’ and not properly considering a shorter working week
John Glen. Photo: ImageplotterAlamy

By Jonathan Owen

01 Mar 2024

Cabinet Office minister John Glen has rejected calls by the PCS union for a four-day working week, saying that his priority is more efficient delivery of public services.

Public services must serve the public first and public servants second, and the evidence for a four-day working week is slim, according to the minister.

Writing in the Telegraph yesterday, in response to a PCS proposal for a four-day week reported in CSW last month, he said: “As the minister responsible for the civil service, I want to support our public servants. But as a member of the government – brought into this role by the electorate – I am accountable to the public first”.

Glen added: “My priority is solving the public sector’s productivity problem: to provide our public services more efficiently. I am clear that any workforce plan must address this core issue, and civil servants working fewer hours will not tackle this problem.”

The PCS has called for a “significant shortening of the working week” for civil servants, with no loss of pay, as part of its 2024-25 pay claim submitted to the Cabinet Office. And the union recently backed a petition by staff at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs calling for a four-day working week to be trialled.

But writing in the Telegraph yesterday, Glen said: “Taxpayers rightly expect our public services throughout the week – we will not be allowing a four-day week on full-time pay.”

In his view, “efforts must be directed at improving services, not working less". He claimed “the emerging evidence for a four-day working week is slim at best” and added: “Where it has worked, it has benefited a small number of small companies. I personally doubt it could translate effectively to a workforce of over 500,000”.

The minister argued that “Ruling out a four-day working week for all civil servants does not mean the civil service is inflexible”. He cited existing options such as compressed hours, part-time arrangements and job shares, which are agreed on an individual basis.

“Any change to working practices we make must improve public sector productivity. We must always remember that our public services must serve the public first, and serve the public servants second,” he said.

His views are at odds with the position that has been taken by the Scottish Government, which announced last month that a four-day working week pilot is underway. Around 140 civil servants at South of Scotland Enterprise are taking part in the trial.

Responding to Glen’s comments, PCS general secretary Fran Heathcote told CSW: “When John Glen says ‘evidence for four-day working week is slim’, he hasn’t looked very hard. The Four Day Week campaign itself shows 92% of the 61 companies that piloted the scheme have continued it because it benefited employers and employees alike”.

She added: “If he’s genuinely interested in evidence, rather than political posturing, I can tell him the companies’ revenue increased by 35%, staff leaving rates fell by 57%, levels of anxiety, fatigue and sleep issues decreased, and mental and physical health improved, leading to a 64% reduction in sick days.”

Heathcote added: “It’s time John Glen took his head out of the sand and had a serious conversation with us about the working conditions of our members.”

And Unison assistant general secretary Jon Richards commented: “Allowing staff to complete their hours in different ways can be the best way to stop experienced staff leaving their jobs.

“Employers that embrace new approaches can find they’re more effective, services improve and they have a happier workforce.”

The 4 Day Week campaign, which recently piloted four-day weeks at 61 companies – 56 of which decided to stick with the policy after the trial – also expressed frustration with Glen's comments. 

Phil Lindsey, the organiser of the 4-Day Week Campaign, said: "We are disappointed to see that, yet again, a government minister is refusing to engage with research and evidence on reduced working hours in good faith. The 4-day week is a win-win for workers, employers and customers (in this case that's all of us as British taxpayers), and the proof of that has been borne out in multiple studies.

"From the Iceland trials, to the world's largest pilot of a 4-day week right here in the UK, we have repeatedly seen improved productivity alongside boosts to recruitment and retention and staff wellbeing. With promising results emerging from South Cambridgeshire District Council's recent adoption of a 4-day working week, we believe now is the right time to trial a 4-day week across the public sector. In Scotland they already have a 4-day week trial up and running in their civil service. Why is England lagging behind?"

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