Short time working – join the debate

Can a shorter worker week be the answer for UK manufacturing’s future?

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There’s no doubt that the outbreak of Covid-19 has changed many things about the way we work, whether that be in the factory or the field, in the office or in the restaurant. Unions and employers both have had to put on their thinking caps and try new innovative and creative ways of keeping jobs and businesses alive.

Many have looked to major competitor countries for inspiration – nowhere more so than in manufacturing, aerospace and shipbuilding.

Over the last few weeks Unite, together with other trade unions, blue chip businesses and employers’ federations have been looking to France and Germany – both countries’ governments have had short working schemes time in place to deal with economic crisis, with the German Kurzarbeit system being in place since 1917.

The idea seems popular in manufacturing and many in industry believe it could be a good way forward to keep our high skill level jobs and businesses within the UK.

Our joint campaigning paid off when, in late September, the Chancellor announced the creation of the Job Support Scheme (JSS).

Although welcome, Unite quickly became aware that the scheme was too limited in its scope and support and was not getting enough traction from employers. Again Unite stepped up and pressed government to make changes – which were announced in October.

The pandemic has raised the need to investigate different ways of working – like the work-life balance, shorter hours of work, productivity gains and more, that could well lead to long term permanent changes.

Unite is part of a campaigning group called the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions – or CSEU. The CSEU has teamed up alongside the well-respected Institute of Employment Rights and also the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom to hold a webinar and discussion on the issues around shorter time working.

Unite at the forefront

In fact Unite heritage unions and the CSEU have long been at the forefront in campaigning for shorter working time.

Thirty years ago the CSEU unions lead the successful fight for a 35 hour week in engineering based on a clear and well thought out strategy, aimed at forcing key companies to concede shorter hours, which would then unleash a tidal wave of similar agreements.

Unite and the CSEU believe that the time has come for that campaign to be revived. The CSEU is working with organisations including the New Economics Foundation (NEF), the Institute Of Employment Rights and the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom to prepare the ground to fight for and win shorter worker time in engineering and manufacturing.

The webinar will hear from CSEU general secretary Ian Waddell on the campaign; Labour’s shadow minister for employment rights Andy McDonald and Anna Coote journalist and campaigner of the NEF. It will be chaired by Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke also the CSEU president.

Tony Burke told UNITElive, “The CSEU is preparing the ground and the arguments for shorter working time and this webinar will add to the debate on how we develop the arguments in order to win a better work-life balance and convince our members that the case for shorter hours can be won.”

‘Excellent opportunity’

Unite’s national officer for aerospace and shipbuilding, Rhys McCarthy agreed. He said, “The webinar presents an excellent opportunity for Unite members to both find out more and to contribute to the debate on shorter working hours.

“Last month I was very proud of our aerospace and shipbuilding reps that joined Unite’s manufacturing matters campaign launch of SOS4JOBS outside the Houses of Parliament to demand the government does not abandon and turn its back on jobs, skills and the UK economy,” he said.

“This campaign had impacted both on the implementation of the JSS but also the improvements and adaptations it needed.

“There’s still more to be done with the length of the scheme to be extended beyond April 2021, and also being able to utilise the government’s apprenticeship levy – which currently has billions sitting in the Treasury as part of the training needed to upskill, reskill and improve overall productivity.

“To not do so and to not match the French and German government systems in their length and scope is putting UK manufacturing at a competitive disadvantage.”

McCarthy continued, “The UK’s Conservative government is being forced against its own political and economic ideology.

“Our pressure had made the state intervene in supporting its citizens, their jobs, companies and on how the national economy should be built. Indeed the short time working we saw under the JSS has thrust into limelight the potential for a more general post-pandemic shorter time working week – where there are no losses of pay, increased productivity and a better work-life balance.”


The webinar, entitled Shorter Working Time and the Redistribution of Wealth will take place on November 9 between 7 pm and 8 pm.

Register today for your place here.

The CSEU/NEF initial report Making up For Lost Time is available for download here.

You can find out more about the vital role that aerospace in particular plays in the UK economy in Unite’s report here.

By Amanda Campbell @amanda_unite

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