advice for trade unionists

A Rank and File Trade Unionist's Guide for Moving Your Workplace to a

Shorter Working Week

The trade union movement won the weekend. It won the eight hour day. It won paid holidays. It will win the four-day week. The right to increased leisure time and decreased working hours was not handed to workers; we achieved it through organised workplace struggle.

 

This is a guide for workers to winning a four-day week (and much more) through building power with fellow workers and taking collective action in the workplace.

 

This is about our lives, and choosing fully what we want to be doing with them. It will change our lives for the better, forever.

Phase One: Making the Case to Your Fellow Trade Unionists

  1. Speak to your colleagues and find out what issues are most important to them and what their views are on shorter working time.

  2. Following your conversations, create a presentation making the case for a shorter working week at your organisation. The 4 Day Week Campaign website has arguments, examples and resources for this. There is lots of existing evidence and strong arguments that can be used here. Adapt the presentation to the existing needs of your colleagues and the organisation as a whole. For example, can you find data on rates of burnout, sickness, or turnover for your employer? Is there a big gender pay gap?

  3. If you have a recognised workplace union, speak to your union reps and ask for a slot on the agenda at a union meeting, or a stand-alone union meeting where you can present to your colleagues and encourage a discussion. If you are a trade union rep already, you can use your powers to call this meeting and set the agenda. If you do not have a workplace union, organise a meeting with your colleagues to discuss a four-day week during your lunch break, or outside of working hours.

  4. Make sure you prepare thoroughly for the presentation. This is an opportunity to make a powerful case for a four-day week in your workplace and address some doubts. Invite a speaker from the 4 Day Week Campaign, or a worker from a company who has already implemented shorter hours successfully.

  5. Based on the outcome of the discussion, write and present a motion for your next union meeting committing your workplace union to campaigning internally for a shorter working week in your organisation. To ensure that people do not get bogged down in the details too early on, emphasise this is about the principle of moving towards shorter hours; exactly how it will happen will be figured out in an unfolding process. This motion must be voted on and democratic procedure must be followed. 

  6. If you don’t have a recognised workplace union, this could be a good demand to organise around to set one up. You can find a guide to unionising your workplace here. It will be really hard to win a four-day week if you don’t have a union because you will lack the power to get your employer to do what you want. Where possible, concentrate on building a union first rather than trying to convince management with presentations and persuasion.

Phase Two: Setting up a Working Group and Preparing Your Case for Management

  1. Create a working group of at least three individuals tasked with carrying forward the agreed motion to campaign internally for a shorter working week. There should be at least one union rep in this working group.

  2. Write a letter to management, making the positive case for working time reduction in the workplace. Make sure you use a broad range of arguments, and include facts and figures where relevant.

  3. Within the letter to management, suggest the creation of a working-time committee which will figure out the details of how a shorter working week will be actioned. The working time committee should have members from both the union group (including a rep) and management.

  4. Ensure that you have included clear timelines for expectations for the implementation of the four-day week - e.g. setting an expectation that the four-day week will be implemented within six months.

Making the Case to Management

When making the case to management, adapt your language to their interests. Emphasise the arguments that demonstrate the benefits of the shorter working week to the employer. See our ‘Advice for Employers’ page. The benefits include:

  • Improved staff wellbeing.

  • Reduced sick leave as staff are happier and less likely to burn out.

  • Increased productivity from happier, better rested staff who take fewer sick days.

  • A reduced gender pay gap and attracting top talent in hiring. Women are far more likely to require part-time work and are therefore often locked out of the jobs market. A four-day week could attract skilled women into more senior roles and reduce gender pay inequality.

  • Increased staff retention because they are happy in work and see the four-day week as a key reason for staying. These staff are more experienced, and reduce the need for costly and disruptive hiring processes.

  • Attracting the best talent. The four-day week is one of the most desirable perks for young workers who increasingly value time over money.

  • This is no longer the risk it once was - there are nearly 100 companies in the UK of varying sizes who have successfully implemented the four-day week.

Phase Three: Workplace Campaigning and Building Support Among Colleagues

  1. Once the letter to management is written, you should campaign amongst the workforce in order to demonstrate that you have majority support for the issue. If an anonymous letter is submitted, or a small minority of workers sign the letter, then it is likely to be dismissed. Management cannot ignore a letter if the majority of workers sign it.

  2. The union working group should make a short information leaflet targeted at workers not yet onside, which can be used as a prop in a conversation to get people to sign the collective letter. 

  3. Speak to your colleagues! Do not rely on posting messages in WhatsApp groups and expecting people to take action. They won’t. Hold structured one-to-one organising conversations with your colleagues to get them to sign the petition. You should prepare these conversations in advance. When you speak to non-union members, ask them how they would feel if they got a four-day week with no loss in pay tomorrow. End your conversation with two clear asks: sign the letter and join the union.

  4. Get as many people (both union members and non-union members) to add their name to the letter to demonstrate the strength of feeling on this issue. This can also be used as an exercise to build union numbers and power in the workplace - demonstrating the importance of the union, and recruiting new members. 

Phase Four: Engaging with Management

  1. Send the letter to management and offer management a meeting to talk through the letter and address any concerns they may have. Remember, these meetings are not places to agree to any offers or concessions management makes: decisions should only be made democratically in union meetings.

  2. If management makes an offer, you must take the offer back to members and vote by a show of hands in that meeting.

What Happens if Management says Yes?

  1. Proceed to Phase Five below.

What Happens if Management says No?

  1. Begin a planned process of escalation against the employer. This will be a campaign that could last months. You must have a dedicated rep or campaign committee and a fully engaged membership. You need to plan ahead at least 3 months at a time. Tips and tricks on building an effective campaign can be found here.

  2. The process of escalation can begin with a petition to management, but could also include everyone wearing ‘4 Day Week’ stickers on the same day, or everyone taking lunch at the same time, walking out of the office together and meeting in a nearby park for a ‘4 Day Week’ picnic.

  3. Ensure that you are building the union and you have a majority of people in the workplace in the union before you escalate.

  4. Ensure that any escalating action is voted upon by members in an all-member meeting and that members are brought along fully at every step of the campaign.

  5. Escalation should move towards disruptive forms of industrial action - for example a majority strike. This will be necessary if your employer is hostile to the requests for a four-day week. If you are campaigning for a four-day week and taking action, get in touch with the 4 Day Week Campaign and we can promote your campaign and see what help we can provide.

Phase Five: Implementation

  1. Set-up the working-time committee and ensure that the committee oversees the implementation of the shorter working week.

  2. Ensure that you speak to every team and department in your workplace. The way some people will reduce their working time will differ from others. Different roles and teams will have a different work-process, which must be altered in its own way in order to reduce working time, without negatively impacting work-output to unacceptable levels.

  3. If there are concerns about going straight for a permanent commitment, launch a trial first. An organisation-specific trial, designed collaboratively with staff and management, will answer the question of how a four-day week can be the best way forward for the workplace.

  4. Build in regular opportunities to reflect and adapt. Things will go wrong! That is inevitable as you implement a new system of working. However the important thing is to evaluate what has gone wrong, and come up with an alternative solution to try quickly.

Tips and Tricks for Reducing Working Time

  • Cut out unnecessary meetings.

  • Ensure that all work meetings are preceded by the creation of an agenda which is shared at the very least an hour before that meeting.

  • Halve the standard length of meetings.

  • Reduce unnecessary emails.

  • Focused time. Only answer emails at two points in the day for 30mins at a time. Use the rest of the day to have large chunks of focused ‘work’ time.

  • Consider placing your personal mobile phone in another location away from your desk, to avoid distractions and temptations during your focused time.

  • Change job descriptions to focus on outcomes. Check job descriptions and remove unnecessary tasks which take up lots of time, but do not actually contribute towards the organisational outcome you have been hired to achieve.

  • Experiment with new communications like slack.

  • Experiment with new forms of task management like Asana.

Principles of a Good Workplace Union

  • Be democratic. Decisions should be made collectively in all-member meetings. Votes should be held in meetings, by a show of hands - and following debate. Avoid email voting. Democracy is a live, active thing which members should fully engage in.

  • Have fun! Strong trade unions rest on good relationships. Plan social events, support each other, and ensure that you enjoy yourselves through your workplace campaigning. 

  • Grow the union as you campaign. Campaigning for a four-day week gives you a chance to recruit new members, as well as build up existing members into experienced activists. Ensure that the tactics you choose maximise your ability to do both.

  • The union should strive to be seen as reasonable. Always send management correspondence before escalating to an action proportionate to the context. Give them time to respond. Let them know that there is a way out. If you are seen as unreasonable you may alienate members and potential members.

  • Ensure that actions  have high participation. You want to demonstrate strength, not weakness. A petition delivered with 20% of the workforce’s names on it will make you look weak. A petition with 90% of the employees on it will make you look strong.

  • Always follow through with a threat. If you threaten to escalate, or strike - make sure you are in a position to do so, and follow it through if your demands are not met.

  • Become a nuisance. You want to create a situation where the level of annoyance and disruption becomes so unbearable to the employer that it becomes easier for them to give in to the demands of the workers, rather than continue to resist.