Labour leadership hopeful Rebecca Long-Bailey has announced plans to crack down on after-hours working. If elected leader come April, she wants to help workers attain the legal right to turn their mobile off outside of work and ignore their emails. She’s right that we’re under pressure to be more ‘digitally present’, for work or social reasons. But is this any concern for politicians?
Amusingly, she launched her own proposal after-hours (7.25pm yesterday). But more importantly, she’s assumed that Britain’s employees suffer from cripplingly long hours and disproportionate work pressures. According to international comparisons, this simply isn’t the case. In fact, Brits are working fewer hours than the average for the developed world.
While German workers are clocking fewer hours, people in the United States and New Zealand are working longer on both counts. The French love to issue laws restricting working hours. We don’t, but here’s the thing: our working week is no more onerous.
French and British workers have roughly the same working week, despite France having legislated the ‘right to disconnect’ back in 2017 for companies with over fifty employees. We’re working an average 36.6 hours a week, compared to 36.2 hours a week for the French.
And we’re happy with our working hours. Four in five UK employees report having “satisfactory hours”; those least likely to be satisfied (still around 70 per cent) tend to be the bosses.
For all the fuss made around the UK’s opt-out measures from the European Union’s Working Time Directive, it’s largely been a non-issue as most Brits are already working (way) under the 48-hour limit.
So is Britain an exhausted nation crying out for Long-Bailey to save us from the burdens of work? As things stand, it’s ‘the many’, not the few, who report a happy work/life balance. And we’re working less compared to historical measures (Bank of England methodology).
What Corbynites struggle to grasp is that the free market is already empowering the masses. Unemployment is at a 40-year low in Britain; nowadays companies are competing for workers. They try to out do each other on decent pay but also when it comes to attractive hours. And yes, they even issue their own methods of protecting workers from out-of-work demands.
None of this is to say people love being bombarded with e-mails on a Thursday at 1am or early on a Sunday morning. But the work burdens Long-Bailey is trying to tackle don’t appear in practice to be a problem. And as the saying (kinda) goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t legislate it.