In the past few months I’ve seen a flurry of interest in the 4-day week among politicians in a number of countries: Canada’s Justin Trudeau, Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland and Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand, the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan, and Seoul mayoral candidates have all made encouraging noises about the 4-day week in recent months. (Of course, you could point to earlier examples across the political spectrum, ranging from Jeremy Corbyn to Richard Nixon.)
Now, Chilean deputy Raúl Soto and colleagues have proposed legislation to put the country on the path to a 4-day week. (The Chamber of Deputies is the lower house of the Chilean legislature, like the US House of Representatives or UK House of Commons.) According to El Monstrador, the “4×3” program would reduce the length of the workweek from 44 to 38 hours over several years, and give employers the option of adopting a 4-day week (or a 5-day or 6-day week).
Soto is a member of the opposition party, so there’s not a lot of change of the legislation passing, and the labor minister, ruling party and business coalition have already signaled their opposition.
A couple things are interesting about this, though. First, both advocates and opponents argue that the pandemic shows the necessity of their positions. Soto and his allies see the pandemic as a chance to reset working conditions, and the 4-day week as a necessary response to its stresses. The labor minister, in contrast, argues that because of COVID, “we are with a very high level of unemployment and a very low level of productivity, and clearly what must be re-promoted, the number one priority, is to recover about 800 thousand to 1 million of jobs that we lack.”
Second, there have been proposals to shorten the workweek in Chile in the past, but what’s notable about this new proposal (the original text is posted online) is that is combines proposals for shortening weekly hours, and giving employers an option to move to 4-day weeks, and is designed to be gradual rather than sudden. As Soto put it, “We don’t want it to be a drastic change.” It’s probably not coordinated, but I see this gradualist approach being taken in other countries as well: in Iceland their recent reduction of working hours has come after years of study, and was informed in part by the shocks caused by their own rather sudden, legally-required reduction of working hours in the 1970s. Likewise, the Seoul mayoral candidates emphasized the indirect incentives they could offer to companies to experiment with shorter weeks.