At its annual conference yesterday, the Trades Union Congress called for a four-day working week to be implemented by 2100.

New technology - such as artificial intelligence, automation and robotics - is leading to smarter working practices. The efficiencies and savings which result should, according to the TUC's general secretary Frances O'Grady, be shared with workers and not restricted to business owners and shareholders. If this happens, workers could work fewer hours each week but receive the same rate of pay.

In the 19th century, unions campaigned for an eight-hour day. In the 20th century, we won the right to a two-day weekend and paid holidays. So, for the 21st century, let's lift our ambition again. I believe that in this century we can win a four-day working week, with decent pay for everyone.

Some employees work compressed hours, meaning that they work their total contracted 35 hours over fewer working days. The change proposed by the TUC takes this a step further, with the idea that technological advances would be able to support a 28 hour working week without any reduction in pay.

Figures quoted by the TUC demonstrate the level of change which would be required to achieve this. Workers in the UK are currentlyworking some of the longest hours in Europe, behind only Austria and Greece. An estimated 1.4 million people work 7 days a week; with 5 million working over 7 hours a week as unpaid overtime.

There is no right to work flexibly in the UK at the moment, only a statutory right to request flexible working for employees with at least 26 weeks' continuous service. Employers have to consider requests reasonably and make a decision within three months. Any refusal must be for one of the reasons set out in the legislation (e.g. the burden of additional costs;detrimental impact on quality/performance). If a request to work fewer hours is agreed to, that would result in a corresponding reduction in pay.

Brodies Workbox users looking for guidance or templates on flexible working will find them here.


Julie Keir

Practice Development Lawyer