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Why are they trying a four day work week in the UK? How many hours do they work?

Starting today, thousands of workers in the UK are to take part in a four-day working week trial that promises to be the largest of its kind.

Kelly Wakeling arranges produce at her market stall ALK Fruit and Veg on Portobello Road, in London, Britain, May 30, 2022. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

The four-day work week pilot plan in the UK will see more than 3,300 workers keep the same pay while working a day less, provided they continue to hit productivity targets set by their employer.

It is the biggest trial since 2019, when Iceland had a four-day work week for 2,500 of its public sector workers. Researchers described the test as an “overwhelming success.”

The pandemic [has] made us think a great deal about work and how people organize their lives,” said Sienna O’Rourke, brand manager at Pressure Drop Brewing. “We’re doing this to improve the lives of our staff and be part of a progressive change in the world.”

The program is being run by not-for-profit 4 Day Week Global, Autonomy, a think tank, and the 4 Day Week UK Campaign. Researchers from Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College are also monitoring the outcome to translate its findings into recommendations for other businesses.

With people emerging from the pandemic, many people’s work priorities have changed. With such a tight labour market, workers are demanding fairer conditions from their employers that they enjoyed during lockdown, such as at-home working.

What are the differences in employment practices between the UK and US?

A work week in the UK is restricted by contract to 48 hours a week on avergae, spread over 17 weeks. This can be opted out of, but a worker cannot be forced by their employer to work more hours than this a week. On average, a worker in the UK works 42.5 hours a week. In comparison, a worker in the US works 47 hours a week.

The UK also has many more aspects of fairer work law. There is an option for up to a year of maternity leave with 18 weeks of pay, while the US has just 12 weeks of unpaid time off. This is the same for holiday and sick pay where the UK has mandated minimum holiday and sick pay, while in the US it is up to the discretion of the company to provide anything.

Work in the US is more precarious too. There are no requirements for a written contract, leaving workers more at the risk of dismissal of bosses without a fair reason. The UK has more stringent contract law as well as clauses included in said contracts that allow bosses to sack staff if they are not fulfilling their contracted obligations.