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May 08, 2021

Could a shorter work week come to North America?

By Jason Buckland, Sympatico / MSN Finance

It’d be easy to argue that Europe is generally ahead of North America, whether such trendsetting may come in food, fashion, public transit or whatever.

So it’s natural that when a special meeting of the European Union is called to solve its labour crisis, we might want to peek through the curtain and take a listen.

To mixed reactions yesterday, some EU leaders proposed a shorter working week as a fix to the growing unemployed, a group that’s ballooned to the largest in the continent since World War II.

Whether or not the idea will get serious consideration isn't known right now, but it does pose an interesting hypothetical for North America to consider.

With demand for labour at near all-time lows in Canada and the U.S., is the suggestion of a shorter work week even something to ponder? Let’s look at the two main points of the argument:

1) Force unions to concede the number of hours worked per person, per week, so more of the workforce can have a crack at consistent employment.
2) Ease the strain on major manufacturers – like German VW plants were forced to do – to keep inventories of unsold product from piling up, slashing company profits and forcing them to shed even more staff down the line.

But, like I did when I initially read the proposal, you’re probably screaming at your computer right now, lambasting the idea of a four-day work week when your bills are piling up.

Wouldn’t spreading the workforce thin create the illusion of more employment when, in reality, it would just boost the levels of underemployment, argued by some to be just as dangerous as no work at all? Wouldn’t that diminish the average family income clear across the board? Isn’t this an idea that generates more problems than it concludes?

Yet, with all that’s going on, can we just write it off completely?



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Deirdre McMurdy

Deirdre is a veteran business journalist and born-again policy wonk. She has covered corporate and financial markets news for 20 years in both print and broadcast at the Globe & Mail, Maclean’s, CTV’s Canada AM and...

Gordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

James Havers

James is the senior editor of Sympatico / MSN Finance living in Toronto. He has worked for the Nikkei Shimbun (Tokyo), canoe.ca, AOL.ca, Canadian Business and other publications. Havers turned to journalism after teaching overseas.

Joe Lee

Joe is the product manager of Sympatico / MSN Finance. While attending a journalism school in New York, he never thought that dollars and cents would later rule his career as a journalist. Despite meeting several savvy money experts...

Dawn Cuthbertson

Dawn is assistant editor of Sympatico/MSN Finance. With caviar dreams on a tuna can budget, she’s always looking for ways to save for a down payment and contribute more to her RRSP with a little left over for fun...