From Iceland — Management And Trade Unions Against Shorter Work Week

Management And Trade Unions Against Shorter Work Week

Published February 23, 2016

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
BenAveling/Wikimedia Commons

Representatives of both labour and management oppose a bill that would shorten the fulltime work week from 40 hours to 35, but opinions did not divide along a simple binary.

The bill in question is still in the first round of parliamentary discussions, and has the support of MPs from the Pirate Party, the Left-Greens and the Social Democrats. The bill has attracted considerable attention, especially from organisations most directly affected by its ramifications.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, management is unilaterally opposed to a shorter work week. They argue that the number of hours in a fulltime week is something that should be decided in the collective bargaining agreement rather than in legislation. They also argue that, if one factors out lunch hours and breaks, the work week is 37 hours long rather than 40, and shortening it by five hours would take it to 32 hours per week.

Labour unions, however, are also against the bill – for largely the same reasons. The Confederation of Icelandic Labour Unions (ASÍ) says they believe the fulltime work week’s length should also be decided in collective bargaining rather than in law. It should be noted that not every union under ASÍ’s umbrella was on board with the opposition – the Federation of State and Municipal Employees, for one, supports the bill.

While the bill is from the opposition, the idea of a shorter work week has been gaining considerable traction in Iceland. The City of Reykjavík began experimenting with a 35-hour-week at some of its workplaces, and about 40% of Icelanders in 2015 support the idea. A new online poll from DV shows close to 90% of respondents supporting the idea as well, although these results are not conclusive.

The bill points out that other countries which have shorter full time work weeks, such as Denmark, Spain, Belgium, Holland and Norway, actually experience higher levels of productivity. At the same time, Iceland ranked poorly in a recent OECD report on the balance between work and rest, with Iceland coming out in 27th place out of 36 countries.

A recent Swedish initiative to shorten the full time work day to six hours has been going well, with some Icelanders calling for the idea to be taken up here. In addition, gender studies expert Thomas Brorsen Smidt has proposed to shorten it even further, to four hours.

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