Icelandic police have reported negative consequences of a municipal experiment to shorten the work week.
Lasting from 2015 to 2019, two large-scale studies involved the reduction of working hours across the public sector, including preschools, police and social services, and hospitals. Pay was not reduced, and hours averaged 35-36.
All together the experiment involved some 2,500 workers, or approximately 1% of Iceland’s working population. Given the wide range of occupations involved in the experiment, it provided groundbreaking data on the potential benefits and pitfalls of a reduced workweek.
However, the reduced work week has not been successfully adopted in all sectors. Vísir reports that Reykjavík police have been overworked and stretched thin, as the number of police officers during the experiment remained roughly stable. Initial projections had given the equivalent of some 75 full-time shifts as necessary to bridge the difference.
In an interview with Vísir, chairman of the National Police Union Fjölnir Sæmundsson stated:
“People come to work more often and are more stressed because there are far too few people on duty, especially out in the country. Total wages have even fallen with this change. For example, I was talking to a person earlier who heads a research department who said that when people take a holiday on Fridays due to the shortening of the working week, projects only wait until Monday because no one was hired. Therefore, no one grabs the projects, which means that they take longer. People can not simply run faster, because they have already been working hard. The shortening of the working week has also made the police officers tired. Police officers in the countryside say they are giving up, they can’t handle the pressure.”
In June, a budget increase of 900 million ISK had been announced to cover the expenses of the shortened work week. This money has been earmarked for the police, coast guard, and prisons, but Fjölnir has claimed that the police are yet to see any of this money.
In March of 2020, the Federation of General and Special Workers in Iceland (SGS) had collectively bargained for a 36 hour work week. However, as of May 2021, the agreement has not yet been fully adopted across the country.
Such reports potentially belie accounts in foreign media of the success of the reduced work week in Iceland.
A comprehensive study of the reduced workweek can be found here.
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