Sweden: Gothenburg municipality implements 30-hour working week
The municipal council of Gothenburg decided in April 2014 to enact a one-year experiment where they would reduce working hours to 30 hours a week with full pay in at least one city department to evaluate the effects of working time reductions on health, employment and quality of work.
In April 2014, the political majority in the Swedish municipality of Gothenburg – which consists of the Left Party (V), the Social Democrats (SAP) and the Green Party (MP) – decided to enact a one-year experiment which would reduce working hours to 30 hours a week with full pay in at least one city department while retaining the 40-hour working week in others, essentially using the latter as a control group. The project will be studied by a researcher for monitoring and evaluation and the political majority is hoping that the experiment will result in less sick days, better mental and physical health among staff, more jobs and higher productivity. The project is estimated to cost between SEK 5 million and SEK 6 million (about €0.5–€0.6 million as at 30 January 2015) and will involve the elderly care sector. It will take place at Svartedalens äldrecentrum, a retirement home with about 60 employees, which will have their working hours reduced.
The summer of 2014 was the initial start date, but the programme has meanwhile been postponed due to the need to follow the rules concerning public procurement for hiring a researcher for monitoring and evaluation. The project was to begin in 2015.
Views of political parties
The 30-hour working week has been a long-standing goal of the Swedish Left Party and the Green Party. Nationally, however, the Left Party decided not to focus on the issue in the 2014 election year, preferring instead to postpone doing so until the 2018 election. The Green Party decided in 2013 to change their election programme to support a 35-hour rather than a 30-hour working week which would become one of their election promises for 2014. At the national level, the Social Democrats are opposed to reducing working time.
Locally in Gothenburg, reducing working hours in the municipal sector was part of the election programme of the ruling Red-Green coalition. This attempt to implement it – although late in the mandate period and despite it being on a small, experimental scale – is seen as an attempt to keep their election promises and hold together the coalition. The leading spokesman for the working time reduction at the municipal level has been the Left Party city councilor Mats Pilhelm. In light of media reports that the Social Democratic participation appears reluctant, it is possible that the reduction to a 30-hour week will remain only a small-scale test run.
The center-right municipal opposition in Gothenburg is opposed to the reduced working hours (as are their parties nationally), with opposition politicians calling it populist and claiming that it will lower the quality of elderly care, increase pressure on staff and be an irresponsible use of municipal resources.
Views of social partners
The the Swedish Municipal Workers' Union (Kommunal) represents the employees concerned. In 1988, the congress of Kommunal made the 30-hour working week one of its main goals which it continued to work for until 2004, when the congress decided to create a working group to reevaluate its position on the issue of working hour reductions. The final report of Kommunal's working group, which had as its basis a membership dialogue involving 25,137 members, was presented at the congress in 2006. It concluded that a 30-hour working week was not a realistic goal in the foreseeable future and that Kommunal’s work should focus on improving working conditions and raising salaries within the 40-hour working week. This has since become the official position of Kommunal.
Concerning the local programme Kommunal remains skeptical. While claiming to be fundamentally positive towards working hour reductions, the district chairperson Eva Kärrman says that there are questions that should be prioritised over reducing working hours such as working conditions, work-related injuries and dysfunctional scheduling. She says that 'Shorter workdays are positive – but at the expense of what?'. The vice-chairperson of the Kommunal section in which the experiment will take place repeats her sentiments, saying that while the first reaction to reduced working hours might be positive, there will clearly be consequences on other things.
The main Swedish employers' association, the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (Svenskt Näringsliv), remains staunchly opposed to reducing the working hours nationally. According to Susanne Spector, labour economist at SN, reducing working hours leads to less tax revenue, lower employment and higher unemployment. According to Ms Spector, there is no evidence that reducing working hours leads to an improvement in the physical and mental health of employees, since reduced working time in other countries has led to higher unemployment which in turn is related to bad health. A 2002 report on working hours and health published by Svenskt Näringsliv made a similar argument claiming that reduced working time risks leading to economic stress, an increase in housework to compensate for loss of income and more intensive working days, all of which could be causes of bad health. The argument was substantiated by a statistical analysis showing that people that worked shorter hours had comparatively worse health.
In a short interview conducted with a representative of the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKL), the relevant employer association in this case, they stated that they are in general in favour of municipal self-rule as long as the municipality acts in accordance with laws and pre-existing agreements. As such, SKL has no particular objections or comments on the programme (Phia Moberg, 9 September 2014).
Previous experiment unevaluated
The Swedish municipality of Kiruna in 1989 enacted a six-hour working day for their entire home-care services, but this was abolished in 2005. No evaluation of the shorter working day took place, however. Due to the lack of data, Kommunal commissioned a study on the working time reduction in home care (in Swedish, 274 KB PDF) which concluded that it was impossible to draw any concrete conclusions on how the shorter working day had affected sick leave or other things.
Reducing working hours has been a long-term goal of the Left Party and the Green Party, as well as parts of the organised labour movement, but was opposed by the employer associations. While not particularly extensive in itself, the experiment of a 30-hour working week in Gothenburg and its evaluation is hence likely to provide policymakers and stakeholders with valuable knowledge. Whether the experiment is successful or not the results are likely to be used by either side in the national debate on whether to introduce working hour reform on a wider scale. A successful experiment could potentially reignite discussion on the topic, which was hotly debated in the 1990s.