An experiment in Sweden seems to indicate that a reduction of 2 hours to the working day leaves workers “brimming with energy” and has “sharply reduced absenteeism, and improved productivity and worker health”.
Nurses at the Svartedalens retirement home have worked six-hour days on an eight-hour salary. They’re part of an experiment funded by the Swedish government to see if a shorter workday can increase productivity. The conclusion? It does.
Arturo Perez, a caregiver at the retirement home, used to come home frazzled from work. His eight-hour stretches of tending to residents with senility or Alzheimer’s would leave him sapped with little time to spend with his three children. But life changed when Svartedalens was selected for a Swedish experiment about the future of work. In a bid to improve well-being, employees were switched to a six-hour workday last year with no pay cut. Within a week, Mr. Perez was brimming with energy, and residents said the standard of care was higher.
“What’s good is that we’re happy,” said Mr. Perez, a single father. “And a happy worker is a better worker.”
The experiment at Svartedalens mandating a 30-hour week seems to have worked wonders. An audit published in mid-April concluded that the program in its first year had sharply reduced absenteeism, and improved productivity and worker health. Daniel Bernmar, leader of the Left party on Gothenburg’s City Council, which is running the trial and hopes to make it the standard, said:
““We’ve had 40 years of a 40-hour workweek, and now we’re looking at a society with higher sick leaves and early retirement. We want a new discussion in Sweden about how work life should be to maintain a good welfare state for the next 40 years.”
But not everyone in Gothenburg sees it as a success. If Gothenburg, let alone Sweden, were to adopt a six-hour workday, opponents say, the economy would suffer from reduced competitiveness and strained finances.
Maria Rydén, Gothenburg’s deputy mayor and a member of the opposition Moderates party, says bluntly: ““We can’t pay people to not work.” Which, on first glance, seems obvious. But think about it: why can’t we people not to work? Because companies else where would undercut us? Well, no, if they also adopted this freer, healthier way of doing things.
The world is so in love with Capitalism, and with the idea of buying workers’ labour as cheaply as possible, it dare not imagine alternatives. Because Capitalism has been the system for so long, it must continue, say its advocates. That same way of thinking would ultimately claim that feudalism and slavery are the right way to run the economy as they survived for many hundreds of years.
We need a radical rethink about these matters. Or we will continue to be slaves to the Capitalist economy that sees individuals as units of work-hours to be exploited as efficiently as possible. Why don’t we live in the long-heralded science fiction utopia where increasing mechanisation frees us up to enjoy ourselves? The robots exist. But it is easier to hire, exploit and fire human workers who have few employment rights.
Maybe it would be good if Skynet took over. At least they don’t pretend that we are equal to them. Our managers like to make out that we’re all in it together. What a joke.