Social debate needed on four-day workweek!


281712968_555162532635578_1884145042787631619_nThere is no doubt that the periods of pandemics and social changes of recent years have significantly rewritten our daily lives, especially our working routines and habits. The covid-period has proved the validity of the so-called “home-office”; practise and the effectiveness of more flexible working in certain sectors.
I am particularly pleased that in recent weeks more and more people have been paying attention to the possibility of introducing a four-day working week in Hungary, too, as I have been working on this issue more closely as a European policy-maker since the covid period, and the increasingly intense public interest has finally made it time to implement my old plan: to launch a social debate on the possibility of introducing a four-day working week in Hungary. A four-day working week system, which would provide more free time, a better work-life balance and more effective creative time, would not, of course, be an immediate and positive change for all employees, as in some sectors the programme is unfeasible and its general introduction could have
as of yet unknown effects. It is therefore to be applauded that many countries have already started to test the four-day working week, and in Hungary too there are already small and large companies that are testing the method and gathering experience. In Belgium, a shorter working week has been possible since February (although the number of hours per day is admittedly higher), in England a comprehensive test programme was launched in June, in Scotland there was a government commitment to investigate and support the introduction of a four-day working week, and in Iceland, a trial was carried out before the covid epidemic: what it is like for a worker to work 35 hours a week instead of 40, without losing a penny in pay, or in this case not a single Icelandic krona. The project was a success and the results showed that the workers were less stressed, their health improved, they had more personal time, which had a positive effect on their productivity and that the fewer hours they worked did not affect their productivity at all. A significant number of Icelanders who were able to do so because of their job have already switched to this system.
It cannot, of course, be said without substantive investigation and in-depth social dialogue that the introduction of a four-day working week would have a clearly positive effect in Hungary, but as a social democratic politician, I am of the firm personal opinion that if it is possible to increase workers; recreational time and to better balance work and private life without reducing wages, then we have a duty to address this possibility.
In recent weeks, I have been consulting with several international organizations, researchers and movements on the experiences of the four-day working week and the organization of pilot projects in Hungary. Most recently, we discussed the possibilities with two leaders of the 4DayWeekGlobal movement in the European Parliament, Andrew Barnes and Charlotte Lockhart, who were open to building more actively in Hungary. So the time has come to start a meaningful and real social debate on this issue as soon as possible, which I, as a European politician of the left, am committed to organizing and supporting: in the coming weeks I will hold the first programme of this at the joint headquarters of the European Commission and the European Parliament in Budapest, where, alongside former EU Commissioner László Andor, we will discuss the pros and cons of a four-day working week with sociological and mental health experts, trade union leaders and employer representatives. If Hungary is really going forward, we need to find ways to improve the living conditions and everyday lives of Hungarian people.

István Ujhelyi
Member of the European Parliament
19 June, 2022.