Y Pwyllgor Deisebau

Petitions Committee

27/06/2022

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Altaf Hussain AS Yn dirprwyo ar ran Joel James yn ystod rhan o'r cyfarfod
Substitute for Joel James during part of the meeting
Jack Sargeant AS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Jayne Bryant AS Yn dirprwyo ar ran Buffy Williams
Substitute for Buffy Williams
Joel James AS
Luke Fletcher AS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Joe O'Connor Global 4 Day Week
Global 4 Day Week
Mark Hooper Deisebydd
Petitioner
Shavanah Taj TUC Cymru
TUC Wales

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Gareth Price Clerc
Clerk
Kayleigh Imperato Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Mared Llwyd Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Samiwel Davies Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 14:00.

The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.

The meeting began at 14:00.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Croeso cynnes i chi i gyd i gyfarfod y Pwyllgor Deisebau.

A very warm welcome to you all to this meeting of the Petitions Committee.

Can I welcome everybody to this hybrid meeting of the Petitions Committee this afternoon? As a reminder to those watching and those giving evidence and taking part today, this is being broadcast live on Senedd.tv. A Record of Proceedings will be published as usual. Aside from the procedural adaptations for conducting proceedings in a hybrid format, all other procedures and Standing Order requirements remain in place.

Item 1 on today's agenda: apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest. Apologies have been received from Buffy Williams, and I'm delighted to have Jayne Bryant with us for the first time today. Welcome, Jayne. Also, apologies have been received from Joel James, who will be attending a scrutiny session after the first evidence session today, and we will be joined by Altaf Hussain as his replacement. I remind committee members that they should note any declarations of interest either now or at the relevant point during today's proceedings.

2. Sesiwn dystiolaeth - (Panel 1) P-06-1247 Rydym yn galw ar Lywodraeth Cymru i arwain y ffordd drwy gefnogi treialon wythnos waith pedwar diwrnod yng Nghymru
2. Evidence session - (Panel 1) P-06-1247 We call on the Welsh Government to lead the way by supporting trials of a four-day week in Wales

Moving on to item 2, then: an evidence session with panel 1 for P-06-1247, 'We call on the Welsh Government to lead the way by supporting trials of a four-day week in Wales'. I am pleased to welcome Mark Hooper and Shavanah Taj to the Petitions Committee today in relation to petition P-06-1247, 'We call on the Welsh Government to lead the way by supporting trials of a four-day week in Wales'. Again, I remind you both that this is a bilingual meeting, and questions and answers can be asked in the language of your choice. Can I ask you to introduce yourselves for the record, please?

Mark Hooper. So, I was the petitioner in this. I have been an advocate for changes to working practices for a number of years, and I think that this is an important opportunity.

Shavanah Taj, the general secretary of the Wales Trades Union Congress.

Well, thank you, both, for joining us today in this exciting evidence session in this particular area. Just for the record, I think that I should say that I know both of you relatively well, and I, too, have spoken on this matter in a personal capacity as a Member of the Senedd. I know that other Members—Luke Fletcher, in particular—have done so as well. If I can go to you, first, Mark, just jumping straight into questions: can you maybe set out for the committee the reasons why you submitted this petition, and what you are looking to achieve because you have submitted it?

Thanks, Jack, and thanks for inviting me here today. I think that it’s important that we're talking about something that’s actually an opportunity to change things that have been set in stone for such a long time. The reason that I put this petition together is that I think that Wales should lead the way. I think that we should be starting to consider the way that our relationship with work changes. I think that there are some things that are out there that really make now the time to do this as well, which is really important.

So, we are in the middle of, quite clearly, a climate catastrophe. We need to do things that are different, because doing the same thing will just lead us to the position that we are in, which is ultimately untenable. I think that we have a productivity crisis, not only in Wales but across the UK. We are continually unable to change our relationship with being more productive as a country, and that’s despite us working longer hours. The UK is known as being this place where we work longer hours than anywhere else in Europe, and yet we produce less than anywhere else.

I think that that leads to my third point, and I think that this is where it comes down to the well-being of people who work in Wales. We have people who are suffering from overwork. We live in a '24/7 on' culture, where your phone is consistently on, you get e-mails left, right and centre, and we can’t escape work. I think that is something that the Government really needs to take responsibility to consider how it deals with it.

The last thing, and I think that this is something that talks to the response that Vaughan Gething gave to this committee, when you wrote to him, and he said, 'Actually, we need to look at what’s happening elsewhere.' I think that there’s a need for the Welsh Government, as a responsible Government, to actually not just rely on other people to do things. It’s up to us to be part of that international response to a four-day week.

We have a pioneer. Two hundred years ago, Robert Owen from Newtown was part of the campaign to get to an eight-hour day and a five-day week. We should consider that we can be part of that movement and be part of the new movement for change now. So, I would hope that the Welsh Government take cognisance of this petition.

14:05

Diolch yn fawr, Mark, and it seems you want to be Barry's version of Robert Owen—  

—perhaps. [Laughter.] But thank you for those answers. If I can press you a little bit further, and I'll ask Shavanah Taj to come in on this as well. Bearing in mind what you've said about productivity, overwork and the climate catastrophe, what benefits do you think a four-day week would bring to the workers of Wales?

I think there are a number of beneficiaries, if we're asking about the workers. Just being able to spend more time doing things that you care about is hugely important and overlooked, sometimes. I think we today spend too little time with our children, and we should be there with our children more than we are at the moment, and work often is a problem with that.

I spoke to somebody on my way in this morning, I said I was coming to this committee, and I said I was talking about a four-day week, and he said, 'I'd love to work more,' and I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'Well, I don't work enough days.' He doesn't get to four days, because sometimes we've got people who are filling those positions that other people could do as well, so it could expand our opportunity for work, as well.

I think the main thing, though, is just to get off this hamster wheel. We're in a situation—. I'm very fortunate, I do work that I really enjoy, but a lot of people don't. We have a relatively short time on this planet and we can't afford just to be working until we die and not really contributing, so I think this is a huge opportunity for change for people.

First of all, I think that it is important for me to note that trade unions are there specifically to ensure that workers' terms and conditions are protected, but we are very much engaged with the employer and with Government to ensure that we prepare people for the future world of work. We have a long history of standing up for decent work-life balance, and this is a bit of an opportunity, really, if it's done correctly, in terms of the introduction of a four-day working week. But what we wouldn't want to see, then—. Of course, we have got climate change. Climate change is very real and that is an emergency, but there is a cost-of-living emergency right now as well, and so it would be very important for us to ensure that if we introduced a four-day working week that it doesn't come with a loss of pay and it doesn't come with a loss, a dilution or a negative impact on workers. So, that's really important.

As Mark has mentioned, technology is changing, and as technology increases productivity, we want to see the profits that then come about as a result of that shared equally and fairly with workers, and that includes less time at work. Now, of course, just like with the real living wage campaign, the four-day work is a simplified approach to improving workers' terms and conditions. That's something that we would definitely say is the case, but there are clearly some risks now, given the situation that we find ourselves in, that without proper union negotiation, you might have some employers introducing the four-day working week and it having negative impacts on some people. So, we would want to make sure that we don't end up applying a policy that negatively impacts; we want it to be fairly done. But I think in Wales we have a bit of an opportunity, because we are introducing the Social Partnership and Public Procurement (Wales) Bill. If we use that framework and use that as a means to be able to enter into more sectors and to organise workers, then I think these pilots could run really positively and they could be done really well.

Overall, of course, the TUC support for a four-day working week is based on actually asking workers what they want. Is this something that they actually want at this moment in time? So, we did a bit of research and we know that eight in 10 workers want to reduce working time in the future, with 45 per cent of workers opting for a four-day working week. I think the four-day working week campaign should then be seen within the wider context of trade unions' work to reduce working hours for the same overall levels of pay. I keep mentioning pay, because that is the reality.

Mark mentioned some of the equality benefits that we could see from some of this, and I think it's worth mentioning that, according to Mind, one in six people have reported experiencing a mental health problem in any given week. So, working a four-day week could leave workers with more time to focus on leisure, on personal development, of course, and spending time with family and loved ones. And, given that we have only just begun coming out of a pandemic, and workers are really exhausted and tired, and many are complaining about long COVID and not having had enough time to spend with their families, if done properly, this could be a really good one.

Also, in terms of the gender pay gap, with the gender pay gap closing at a real snail's pace, currently standing at 17.3 per cent, down by a fraction from 17.9 in 2019, that means that the average woman effectively works for free for two months of the year compared to the average man, according to TUC analysis that we published earlier this year. So, by working four days, childcare responsibilities are then more easily shared as well, and I think that's really important, and childcare costs are then not as high. So, again, if done properly, this could be a real benefit here.

And, of course, with Merthyr now in the housing association, there is a pilot, the union has been engaged in that. So, I think that if you have got the right sort of framework in which it's done—. It's just like introducing the real living wage; you'll have employers who say, 'We're a real living wage employer', and they get their little rubber stamp, and they think they're brilliant, but because there's no union, it means that other terms and conditions are then watered down. Because they've introduced the real living wage, workers have got fewer shifts and so forth, but they've got their badge of honour. So, I would like this to be done properly and effectively, and I think, because of the legislation that we're introducing, with the social partnership framework, we could do this differently and better.

14:10

Thank you, Shavanah. Your comments have brought a couple of questions to me, and I'll just ask those before I pass over to Luke. I think, firstly, and we can't pre-empt what this committee would perhaps say and we can't pre-empt what the Government may do, but if the Government were to consider supporting trials of a four-day week, would it be fair to say a committee should suggest that no unintended consequences are—

Okay. So, I'll stop there, and that will be because time is short. But, you also mentioned the social partnership Bill, which has been introduced to the Senedd just recently and it will be going through the stages of legislation that it has to follow, and, of course, that includes fair work and flexible working. We've seen various Ministers make reference to that, and perhaps make reference to a four-day week as not being the only solution; flexible work is a solution that a four-day week may be involved in. Is there a case for the need to strengthen those powers that the Senedd has with regard to the social partnership Bill?

I think that what we would like to see is some guidance that runs alongside the piece of legislation. Maybe right now it's too late in the day, almost, to mess around with something that I think is nice and neat. I think, if you've got guidance that runs alongside it—. Because, of course, what we have to understand is that we do have negotiations that already take place; there are already frameworks in place within social care, for example, within different parts of the public sector, within the devolved parts of the civil service, for example. From our perspective, we've seen, for example, the Scottish Government look to introduce a pilot. Now, the unions have welcomed that, but, of course, they've also, at the same time, talked about pay restraint within some of their guidance. So, there are some concerns there. So, I think that it is important that we do look at the unintended consequences and that this isn't giving with one hand and taking away with the other; I think there needs to be some balance here. But, I think guidance could do it, yes.

I referenced the fact that we've got a productivity crisis across the UK. I think, if there are changes that need to be made to legislation, there's nothing to stop us pushing those changes outward from Wales for the UK Government to consider. I think this is a big issue. I don't see any particular changes. Interestingly, there's a Petitions Committee in the UK Government today that's taking evidence about shortening the school week to a four-day week. So, I think this is something—. There is interest in this; it's just where does power lie in this regard. I think we can push upwards.

I think we will take a close interest in that evidence session as well.

Can I just add one more thing? One of the concerns that have been flagged is that in parts of the devolved civil service—well, actually, the civil service overall, really—and parts of the public sector, people are already overworked and they're struggling to be able to take time off in lieu. So, again, there is this balance, and it's going to be very, very important to take into account some of those issues as well.

14:15

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Outside of this committee, one of the things that I've been calling for is for the Welsh Government to run its own pilot, and I completely agree with what you said, Mark, in your opening statement. I think for any responsible or progressive Government, we shouldn't just be looking outside and seeing what other people are doing—we should do it ourselves. I think you alluded to it in your initial answer to the Chair's first question, so I'll start with you, Mark, if that's okay. I'm wondering if there are any discussions that have been ongoing or have happened with Welsh Government already about potentially introducing that four-day work week pilot. I'm wondering if you've had more success than I have had.

I think this is at an early stage. I think this committee's evidence session can help, and I think this is important. It's potentially one of those things that would get lost if it was just an opposition debate and we said, 'We demand a four-day week'—I think it can be lost in things. I think this is why a session like this is important. I think this committee can start to build up an evidence base that can help Government to come to this conclusion. But, ultimately, I think there are a number of powers that are outside of our devolved competency that make some of this difficult—powers over things like the Department for Work and Pensions, for example, and so on. So, there are some challenges that will make this difficult.

Shav has mentioned that the question of flexibility is part of this as well. I don't think it's about 'Monday bad, Friday bad'; it's how do you become more flexible and how do you work fewer hours than we are at the moment. I think that's the critical thing, and I think you can get a consensus around this, particularly if you focus on the elephant in the room—this productivity issue. There's evidence now, and I'd like us to contribute to that, that shows that if you do fewer hours you can be as, if not more, productive. We need to solve that. The UK is in trouble if it doesn't solve it. I think that's where you've got an opportunity for consensus building.

Thank you for that. Shav, did you have anything additional you'd like to add?

I think that it's probably worth giving it a bit of context as well. According to the Health and Safety Executive, 55 per cent of all sick days taken last year were as a direct result of work-related stress, depression or anxiety. So, again, moving to a four-day working week could really help us with the mental health crisis that we're experiencing here in Wales and across other parts of the country. But, as Mark was saying, there are some really good examples of successful trials in other countries, including in Ireland and in Spain as well, and there we haven't seen a reduction in pay.

I know I keep banging on about this issue of pay, but it is a huge, huge issue that needs to be flagged continuously. But I think, overall, from a trade union perspective, when I say about the risks of loss of wages, there have been some examples of organisations that have introduced a four-day working week that's linked to pay cuts. You've had the owner of O2, the Spanish telecom giant Telefónica, offering its employees the opportunity to work a four-day week in exchange for a 12 per cent pay cut. If we went down that kind of route, then that would be completely disastrous for us here.

There are some other concerns. Potential risks in some of this are that there are some sectors that may find it quite difficult to actually have a four-day week. So, for example, in care, in parts of hospitality and education it might be that a four-day working week isn't as easy to introduce. I'll never say it's impossible, but it would be difficult to introduce for a vast range of different issues, and given that women are particularly employed in these sectors, they can't then afford a four-day working week and then have any changes that are going to be disproportionately disadvantaging women in the workplace.

But then, on the flip side, when we look at disabled workers, we know that if the working week is, of course, managed better, that can have a hugely positive impact on disabled workers, who'll have extra time to recover and to rest, but also it will really help us as far as plugging the disability pay gap is concerned as well. So, I think that that could really help us in terms of positively supporting the increase that we would like to see in recruiting more disabled workers into work, as we've seen during the pandemic, with more disabled workers actually being able to work because they could work from home all of a sudden. So, I think there are swings and roundabouts here, but it goes back to the fact that, if you have a union in the workplace and there are good relations between the employer and the worker representatives, then you can see some positive wins here.

14:20

Thank you for that. I did have a supplementary, but I’m aware that one of my other colleagues might be touching on some of the problems in care and hospitality, so I’ll leave that for them. But if I could stick with you for a moment, Shav, if we think about a potential Welsh Government pilot, what sort of things would you like to see in it? Obviously, we’ve emphasised pay already, and I 100 per cent agree with you—I think if there’s a loss of pay, then it defeats the purpose of the whole idea of a four-day work week anyway. But in terms of any Welsh pilot, what would you like to see? For example, do you have any views on how long the pilot should last for, which sectors should be involved in that pilot, and, as an additional question to that as well, are there any international examples that you think we could look at and implement some of the things that they’ve been doing in their pilots in a Welsh-specific pilot?

I think that the areas where you could potentially introduce something like this would be probably the devolved civil service, because, for example, we already have the well-being hour that you get if you work in the devolved civil service. I think that is a good place to start, although it’s difficult at the moment because the workloads are so high, and there’s a lot of catch-up as well post pandemic, so that would need to be factored in. We would also then need to take into account that there are staffing gaps, there are some recruitment issues at the moment. But I think that, if you introduce something like this, potentially this could be seen as a benefit. It could be seen as a positive for somebody who wants to come and work in Wales. So, I think that that would be a good option for us, definitely. Now that we have more people who work from home, including people who are working for the Welsh Government who work from home, from all different parts of the country and, actually, different parts of the world, even, I think that having this as an additional benefit would be a really good thing.

We have seen a trial in Iceland, for example, that saw workers’ well-being dramatically increase across a range of indicators, from perceived stress and burnout to health and work-life balance. There was also a positive initiative in Austria last year, where the retail trade union included a demand for a four-day working week in their negotiations with retail employers. I think that that could be a good one for us to have a look at as well. So, there are some pilots out there that we could definitely look at in more detail. There’s never a one-size-fits-all approach here. It is about making it more Welsh, more unique to the wider benefits that you see as a worker here in Wales.

In terms of people wanting to work for a company that operates a four-day week, Atom bank, at the back end of last year, decided to go fully to a four-day week. This wasn’t a trial, they just said that they were going to go and do it. In their first quarterly review—so, in January they reviewed to see whether it had had any impact—there was no material negative impact at all that they got on their customer service scores, which, for a bank is, I realise, kind of crucial. But the other thing is they’ve had a 500 per cent increase in people who wanted to join Atom bank. So, in terms of the challenge that Shav has referenced—that we have these gaps in our employment and we need to find people to go and work there—with a 500 per cent increase, you get quality people wanting to work with organisations that put well-being at the heart of what they do. So, this could be a real opportunity. And to make it more Welsh—I think that’s critical in this.

Thank you, Chair. I just wonder if I could pick up something that Shavanah said at the start. You surveyed your membership; did you say 47 per cent came back to say that they were in favour of a four-day working week? I was just wondering if I could get some idea of the figures there about how many responded and what were the other options that they chose.

I haven’t got the full details of the exact survey other than the top, headline figures that I’ve shared with you already. But our position is very much that running a four-day week pilot in the devolved public sector is going to be a really good opportunity for us to learn more about what we could achieve for workers in Wales, as long as this is done in consultation with the recognised unions, and takes into account some of the agreements that already exist around condensed working hours, for example. It’s also then got to be understood that this is not a union side request and it shouldn’t be traded off against union asks, either. So, again, it goes back to the fact that we wouldn’t want something and then have to lose something in return, because if this is about productivity and this is about well-being, then it needs to be seen in that context. We are concerned around the potential for greater risk of exploitation for those workers who currently aren't covered by a collective bargaining agreement, where there's no negotiation when it comes to a workplace policy change. So, that would be a concern.

Also, I think the wider context is important here as well, because in almost all industries, work intensity has been increasing over the last couple of decades. Workers in Wales in particular have put almost £700 million of unpaid overtime into the system over the last year, and workers in the UK work the longest hours in the EU. So, a pilot should definitely be looking to address some of this imbalance.  

14:25

Perfect. Thank you for that. Would those figures, then, be available online?

Yes, we can definitely share that with you, the full detail of the research. That's not a problem. 

Perfect, because the only concern I have with percentages is that it doesn't actually give you how many were—

Perfect. Thank you. With that in mind, then, with your comments there, obviously you've touched upon it briefly, but I'd just like to know—and it's for Mark as well, really—what sort of evidence you'd like to see gathered from the four-day pilot to assess its impact, and then whether or not you would say, 'Well, that pilot's been a success', or, 'Actually, that hasn't achieved the desired outcome that we wanted'?

One of the pilots that are already taking place in Wales is in a workplace that is unionised. That's the Merthyr example—Merthyr Valleys Homes. It's one of the 70 UK companies in a six-month trial where we'll see people working fewer hours for the same pay. There is a 225-strong workforce there. They've got carpenters to communications, the chief executive to the call centre—pretty much everyone has now started to work fewer hours. I think that's already an example. Because the union is there and there is a framework in which this is being done, I think that we could use that as a bit of a backdrop to see how well that's going, in real time, and then look to build our sort of unique pilots and the Welsh way of doing this around that, maybe. 

I think this is critical, getting the measurement of this right, and I actually think it's really simple. I think the one measure that's the most important measure is can the people who are on the four-day week achieve what they were achieving by doing fewer hours and less time. I think one of the things that's been evidenced so far by other trials is that they've done that. The thing that's more difficult to measure is the well-being benefit to those people. But, that's a great-to-have, positive side effect. I think that, if we can get to a point and learn very quickly that people can do the same as they were doing before with fewer hours, that is an easy win; it's something that's very measurable. And if you take Atom bank as the example, and there will be others, that's the sort of thing we should be contributing. 

I think it talks to an issue we have of presenteeism, that people just have to be in work and have to be seen to be in work, which is no good for anyone or anything, and it's no good for Welsh productivity, quite clearly. So, I think this is easy. I think if we make it difficult and we make it too convoluted, we won't get the type of answer that everyone in this committee would want. 

Thank you. I suppose with that in mind, then, obviously you've done the four-day week before in your role as a director, and I was just wondering, then, about getting an idea of why you went down that route, the challenges, if any, you faced, but then also—. Again, it's coming to the first one, why you went down that route of the four-day working week. We've discussed that there are other options, for example flexible working and that, and I know some of the bigger companies are looking at that, rather than the rigidness that is seen with a four-day working week.

I think that's a critical question. I'm not somebody who subscribes to this—that you have to do four days instead of five. I think flexibility is critical. People who worked in the organisation that I was running, some would get in later every day so that they could take the children to school, and then were leaving earlier every day so that they could do the pick-up. That was particularly important. For one bloke in particular who had shared parental responsibility, it meant he saw his children more than he would have done previously. So, that was one. Then, somebody else took Fridays off to write a poetry collection that got published—so, stuff that they felt was really important. So, that was critical. So, I don't think this should be rigid. I think what it should be is fewer hours—that's the critical thing—for the same money. That's critical as well. A hundred per cent of the output for 80 per cent of the hours for 100 per cent of the pay—I think those are the three things that are important.

Why we did it? Because I recognised that there needed to be a change in the way we do things, and I wanted to be someone who at least didn't just talk about it, but actually did something about it. I learnt a lot in that time. I learnt a lot about myself. I learnt that I am not somebody who does four days a week. That's because I love what I do—I'm fortunate—most people don't. There's a great book, and I'm not going to reference the title, but people can—. They talked about 50 per cent of the jobs we do, and if we didn't do them, it wouldn't matter. And people know that themselves. That walking away from having done a day's work and knowing if they didn't come in, it wouldn't make any difference. We have to do better than this, and I think this is the sort of thing—. The world will change. Wales need to be at the forefront of it, not just a laggard picking up somebody's ideas. But I think those are—. I want to be part of it, and I think the Government should do the same. 

14:30

Perfect. Thank you, Chair. Just one final question, then. It's really about what you want the role of the Welsh Government to be in this, then. 

So, Shav said—. I'll be very brief in this, but I think that there's an opportunity within the Welsh civil service. I think the things that the Welsh Government are directly responsible for, they could implement. We've got the private sector with this campaign that's been—. You're going to be speaking to Joe O'Connor later. He's going to talk about the private sector, so I appreciate Merthyr Valleys Homes is a private company at the end of the day. So, I think this is doing things within the public sector, which is often ignored. So, the question I think—. The challenge is something that talks directly to this productivity issue is: why are private sector companies recognising that this is an opportunity, and the public sector are being laggards behind? Let's change that; they're doing it because they recognise that there's a productivity opportunity. Atom Bank, a shareholder-owned bank—they're not doing it for the fun of it, they're doing it because they see it's something that can make them more money for their shareholders. This is our opportunity to do the same as well, and to learn. If it doesn't work, let's learn.

Thank you, Chair. Thank you very much for the answers to the questions that you've given already. It's been really helpful. I just wanted to come in on the point that you touched on, Shav, around some of those sectors that could be quite difficult, such as care, hospitality, schools, perhaps, as well, and emergency services. I'm just wondering how that Welsh pilot could overcome those challenges, or how you see that could be overcome. And also, just around the argument from some that suggest—even though Mark said it, really—that productivity is seen to go up in the pilots, but some are suggesting that productivity would be impacted in some sectors. So, just some answers to those. 

I think it is about doing and learning at the same time, and it goes back to the point that Mark was just making right now. Even within parts of local government, for example, some of the unions in England have negotiated going from a 37-hour week to 35 hours. So, not a four-day working week, but a reduction in hours, nonetheless. I think if we were to approach this from a basis where we said, 'We're not saying people just work Monday to Thursday'—that's not what this is about. This is about an enhanced version of flexible working, but you don't work as many hours you would have, and you're not going to lose any pay. And equally, you're not only not going to lose any pay, but it also doesn't mean that, for example, if you need to have any training, your employer is not going to then ask you, 'Well, you know that day you don't normally work, that's the day that you've got to log on or you've got to go and attend some training.' So, there's going to be—. Again, mitigating some of those negative consequences I think is going to be important. But I think it is going to be tougher to introduce a four-day week in care, in areas like hospitality, because there are a lot of demands on these sectors. Hospitality was shut down for a very long time, and they are struggling now, of course, with fewer people having that additional income that they can spend as freely as they were previously. But I think there is going to be—. What we would need, then, is to take into account that, for care, hospitality and education, it may not be suitable for a four-day working week specifically, because people do need rests and they do need breaks, and sometimes they just don't get them. So, I would probably say that we need to look at the wider terms and conditions and the working hours, and look at things like pay, even, and look at career advancement. It's about priorities for that sector. 

So, I think that it's back down to making sure that the existing negotiating frameworks and the bodies that exist, where you have unions, employers and government engaging—. So long as you go through that route, and everyone is very clear what a pilot would look like—. And it's about timing. When do you introduce a pilot? Nobody's saying 'never, never'. What they are saying is that it's about timing. Would this be the one thing that we would prioritise immediately? Perhaps not. Maybe not in this sector, but it could work in this other sector instead. So, I think that that's another bit that we are going to have to think through as well.

14:35

I think that the sector thing is an issue that needs addressing directly. So, the care sector: people work extremely long hours, they get extremely badly paid and they get extremely overworked. This is a sector that needs fundamental reform. A four-day week could force some of these sectors to reform themselves. 

If we were sitting here and saying that there should be a five-day week 200 years ago, we'd have to put up a petition because, previously, they were doing a seven-day week. These are things that have changed for good reason. There's no fundamental reason why it should be eight hours a day or five days a week. 

Hospitality is another one as well. During the COVID crisis, we had leaders in the hospitality business telling their employers to go and find a job in a supermarket rather than being protected within that industry. So, these have been exploited for a long, long time, while profits have been extracted out. So, I think that this is an opportunity for us to reassess some of those things. But doing it in an environment where you don't have the support of the unions shows the weakness of some of these things as well, in those two sectors in particular. Sorry, Jack.

No, that's fine. That's really useful. Would you see the Government's role, perhaps, to use its levers to help different sectors and different industries shape their future, rather than instruct their future? Would that be right to say? 

Well, it depends on where you fall politically, maybe. The elephant in the room for me, really, is when you look at the rail dispute at the moment and the way that that has been handled her in Wales, and the role of the Welsh Government and how they've engaged through Transport for Wales—for me, that gives me a real-life example of how things can be done. That doesn't mean that the Welsh Government sits in the room every five seconds and you have to have a Minister there, but we do have a framework in which we operate. So, there can be an opportunity to bring in a Minister, if necessary, or a senior civil servant, to help resolve a matter.

Now, I think instructing people in areas that you don't have direct financial control over is always going to be really tough to call. But where you do have control and there is a—. We are on this pathway of creating one public sector Wales, for example, and we are also introducing not only social partnership legislation but procurement legislation that runs alongside it. This is ultimately about creating a better, more equal, more inclusive Wales, where everybody is welcome and where everyone is valued. So, if things are done properly, and when agreements are being reached and when services are being procured out, this could be that additional fit. But from my perspective, I think it would always be very important that we address labour exploitation and we address insecurity at work as well. If you have got a zero-hours contract, having a four-day week—well, what does that mean in real terms? We have got a significant number of people on insecure work—zero-hours contracts and all sorts of things—in Wales, and I would like to see us prioritise some of those sectors, first and foremost, and then have the four-day week as the additional. Where we're doing well, I think we should definitely run some pilots. The Wales TUC, the TUC union movement, would definitely see that positively and support it. 

Thank you for that, Shav. Unfortunately, we don't have time for any further questions from Members. We've got four seconds left. I'll extend another two minutes if, Mark, you want to have a final comment.

14:40

I think this has been hugely interesting in terms of where the union movement fits into this as well, and where Wales can be different. I think the Government can and should intervene in this. I think it has an opportunity within its own workforce—that's where I would start. I think sometimes we ignore the benefit, and Shav has mentioned it—the difference in the current dispute in the way that the Welsh Government has been as opposed to elsewhere has been hugely significant—and I think we can have an intervention that can have a positive element to it, and this could be one of them. But I think, and I briefly mentioned it a few seconds ago, where we've got sectors in the economy that aren't working for other reasons today, then it's up to the Welsh Government to try and put that pressure to UK Government to say, 'This isn't an appropriate way to do things.' So, this could open a can of worms. The thing I'd end with: I don't think a four-day week is a panacea. There are a bunch of other things that need to be done as well, some of which aren't within our control at the moment, so I think those are the things where we should start to challenge upwards as well, and do it forcibly.

Okay. Well, thank you both for joining us today. I think it's been an interesting first session on this particular petition; it's posed some questions to us as a committee as well, which we'll reflect on later today—we've also got the second session later this afternoon. Can I thank you both again for joining us? There will be a transcript sent out to you both so you can check that for factual accuracy and make any amendments if necessary. If there is further evidence that you wish to submit, then please do submit it to the clerking team. And if we have any further questions, I'm sure we will be in touch too. Okay, I will now pause for a break there. Just before I do that, I'll also put on record I'd be grateful, Shav, for the data behind the survey that Joel requested as well.

I will pause for a break there, a quick technical break, where we'll allow Joel to go to his next important meeting and Altaf Hussain to come in as his replacement. So, diolch yn fawr, and we'll pause there and go into private session.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 14:42 ac 14:46.

The meeting adjourned between 14:42 and 14:46.

14:45
3. Deisebau newydd
3. New Petitions

[Inaudible.]—as we've said, has gone on to another committee session this afternoon. Welcome, Altaf, to the Petitions Committee. Moving on to item 3 on today's agenda, and new petitions, starting with item 3.1, P-06-1282, 'Create a National Poetry Library of Wales'.

'Currently, England has 2 and Scotland has 1 but Cymru – “gwlad beirdd a chantorion” – has none. This lack of a National Poetry Library of Wales is a gap in our cultural, national life. Though the National Library in Aberystwyth is an excellent institution, it’s not yet a place that helps poetry blossom. Only a dedicated Poetry Library can be the archive for some of our oldest poetry, be the place of pilgrimage & growth for our poets, and be an institution that bridges our bilingual poetic traditions.'

And this was submitted by Ben Gwalchmai—I'm sorry, Ben, I may have pronounced that wrong—with 410 signatures, and I would ask committee members to discuss this petition and any actions they may wish to take, and I'll bring in Luke Fletcher. 

Diolch, Gadeirydd. I think, just for the record, I know Ben, and I think I might have been one of the first MSs to come out in favour of or supporting his proposal. I'm sure you'll correct me if I'm wrong on that one. But there's not much to say on this one, if I'm totally honest. I think it's outlined in the petition pretty clearly why we should have a national poetry library. I think in particular—and thanks to Ben as well for passing on the presentation—one thing that excites me about this, actually, is the whole point of the project is to try and bring poetry to people who might not have necessarily been exposed to it. I know I wouldn't have been exposed to it growing up, given my background. 

But, in terms of the petition itself, I think Ben and how much he's been campaigning on this and his eagerness to see this through has actually done the work for us. He's already had a meeting with the Minister. The Minister has invited him to give a draft proposal, so he seems to have done our job for us. So, on that basis, Chair, I would recommend that we do close the petition, and that we thank Ben for highlighting this. But also, as well, that we as individual Members continue campaigning. I saw the Tories, for example, were supporting it; I'm sure there are Labour Members as well. So, I think it falls down on to us now to see this through.

Diolch yn fawr, Luke, for that suggestion. I can see that Members agree with your suggestion there, and we will thank Ben. I also note there will be a presentation in the Senedd tomorrow evening for Members to go and witness and take part in, and that's extended to not just committee members but also Members of the Senedd, all 60 of us. So, I'm sure Ben will see some of us there, and we do thank him and wish him well in establishing, hopefully, a national poetry library for Wales. 

Okay, moving on to item 3.2, P-06-1283, 'Introduce the mandatory microchipping of cats in Wales'. 

'Microchipping is part of responsible pet ownership and has countless benefits for both cat and owner. If a persons cat becomes lost, stolen or gets injured, a microchip is the best chance for reunification. Microchips are not just beneficial for the cat and owners who love them, but also eases strain on the organisations who have to handle and treat unidentifiable cats.

Cats Protection estimates more than a fifth of cats are not microchipped in Wales, regardless of relentless campaigning.'

There is additional information within Members' packs and available to members of the public online. I too note we've had a further paper from the petitioners today, received today, for Members to be aware of. This was submitted by Cats Matter, with 854 signatures. I will bring Members in now to discuss that particular petition and any actions they may wish to take, and I look to Jayne Bryant.

14:50

Thank you, Chair, and it's good that we've also got this additional information with us today. I think just something to note, really, is that the petitioners have thanked the Minister for a positive response and they do feel satisfied that this adequately addresses the issue of mandatory microchipping in cats, but they are still concerned about the decline in local authorities' scanning of cats. I think, since the policy was introduced in 2017, local authorities have undertaken this voluntarily. Most have continued to maintain the system where cats are regularly scanned and, where a microchip is present, owners will be notified, but there's, I think, concern around some local authorities. So, perhaps one action could be that we note that the petitioners are satisfied with the animal welfare plan, that it addresses adequately the issue of mandatory microchipping, but, potentially, we could, as a committee, write back to ask the Minister to write to local authorities to remind them of the important contribution to animal welfare that they play, and perhaps issue guidance.

Thank you for that suggestion, Jayne. So, I can see Members agree with that suggestion. Perhaps as well, on the back of writing to the Minister, we could also seek to close the petition as well, and not necessarily seek a response from the Minister but just a direct push for the Minister to do that, and close on the back on it as well. Agreed. 

Just before I move on, I will correct the record, because today's kind submission of evidence wasn't from the petitioner but it was from Cats Protection, the UK cat welfare charity, so I apologise for that and thank Cats Protection for engaging with the committee.

Okay, moving on, then, to item 3.3, P-06-1284, 'Keep schools open in Spring term 2022. Enough is enough', this was submitted by Bianca Simpson Lepore, with 909 signatures, and item 3.4, P-06-1285, 'Immediately lift the restrictions placed on Outdoor sporting events', submitted by Ryan Jewell, with 5,143 signatures. Given the fact that both of these are with regard to coronavirus 19 regulations, and due to there being no COVID-19 regulations in place now, as Chair, I propose that we close both 3.4 and 3.3, the petitions, respectively. Do Members agree? They do. Thank you. 

4. Y wybodaeth ddiweddaraf am ddeisebau blaenorol
4. Updates to previous petitions

Okay. Moving on to item 4 on today's agenda and item 4.1, P-06-1257, 'Reduced Council Tax for private estate properties', submitted by Mark Henson with 578 signatures, can I invite Members to discuss this petition and any action they may wish to take? I look to Luke Fletcher to discuss the petition.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. I think it's worth noting at the top that the petitioner was frustrated with the slow progress of Welsh Government on this particular issue, and I can sympathise with that. I think myself and a number of other Members—my predecessor as well, Dai Lloyd—campaigned on this issue. I can see that the Welsh Government has committed to implementing legislation now to improve leaseholder rights. So, on that basis, Chair, I would like to suggest that the committee closes the petition and thanks the petitioner. The reason being that it could be some time until we see that legislation, and I know there are a number of Members who are going to continue campaigning on this particular issue anyway. So, I hope the committee would agree with that recommendation.

Diolch yn fawr, Luke, and I think you're right. I think there's probably little the committee can do at present. I can see other Members in agreement as well, so we will action that. 

Moving on to 4.2, P-06-1261, 'Invest to ensure all schools have high quality, effective internet infrastructure and connectivity', submitted by Charles Green, with 65 signatures. Again, I will ask Members to discuss the petition and any particular actions they may wish to take, bringing in Luke Fletcher again.

14:55

Diolch, Gadeirydd. It seems to me that this is still a bit of a work in progress on the Government's front. On that note, I think that it's now going to fall down to us, as individual Members, to continue scrutinising the Government's work. I don't think that there's much more that we can do as a committee. So, on that basis, I'd like to recommend that we close the petition and thank the petitioner.

Okay.Thanks, Luke, for that suggestion. Any other comments from Members? There are not. Okay.

Moving on to item 4.3, P-06-1263, 'Control pollution from agriculture in the parts of the Wye and Severn River located in Wales', submitted by Keith Clarke, with 118 signatures. I'd like to bring Members in at this point to discuss any actions that they wish the committee to take. I'll bring in Jayne Bryant.

Pack page 11. Thank you, Chair. Yes. Thank you, Chair. So, I think that—you know, we've had some information here around that. But I think, given the detailed work of reviewing these regulations recently been completed by the Economy, Trade, and Rural Affairs Committee—they've made 10 recommendations to Welsh Government—I think that it appears that there's no real action at the moment that the committee could take, but perhaps we could keep an eye on it, and thank the petitioner and close. 

I'm not disagreeing with Jayne at all, on that. The Economy, Trade, and Rural Affairs Committee has done some work on this already, so I think it's now—. And I'm speaking as a member of that committee as well. I think that now it's a matter of waiting for the Government to respond to that report. I can't see what more the Petitions Committee itself can do. And of course, the Economy, Trade, and Rural Affairs Committee will be keeping a close look on this as well.  

Thank you. So, the suggestion is to close the petition, given the basis of the work of another Senedd committee, the Economy, Trade, and Rural Affairs Committee. Are Members in agreement? They are. Thank you.

Okay. At this point, again, I'd like to pause for a—. We flew through that. Excellent work from committee members. I'd like to pause for a quick technical break again to bring our next witness in for panel 2, session 2 of the four-day week inquiry evidence sessions. So, I will pause and go into private session just briefly to bring our next witness in. Diolch.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 14:57 a 15:01.

The meeting adjourned between 14:57 and 15:01.

15:00
5. Sesiwn dystiolaeth - (Panel 2) P-06-1247 Rydym yn galw ar Lywodraeth Cymru i arwain y ffordd drwy gefnogi treialon wythnos waith pedwar diwrnod yng Nghymru
5. Evidence session - (Panel 2) P-06-1247 We call on the Welsh Government to lead the way by supporting trials of a four-day week in Wales

Can I welcome back the committee for the second time today, or the third time now, for the second evidence session, panel 2, for P-06-1247, 'We call on the Welsh Government to lead the way by supporting trials of a four-day week in Wales'? Earlier this afternoon, we had evidence from the petitioner, Mark Hooper, and Shavanah Taj from the Wales Trade Union Congress on the matter. But I'm delighted to be able to welcome Joe O'Connor this afternoon, who's live all the way from New York in the United States. So, I'm delighted that the Senedd Petitions Committee, in its first year, has gone global and international, making waves. 

Joe, thank you for joining us to give evidence to today's committee session. I will remind you and Members that this session is bilingual, and questions and answers can be asked or answered in the languages of Welsh and English. Joe, can I ask you before we start to introduce yourself for the Record, and any further initial comments you may wish to make?

Sure. Good afternoon, Chair and committee. Thank you very much for the invitation to give evidence to you this afternoon. My name is Joe O'Connor, I'm the chief executive officer with 4 Day Week Global. We're a not-for-profit organisation that was founded initially in 2019 by two entrepreneurs, Andrew Barnes and Charlotte Lockhart, who had initially introduced the four-day work week on a trial basis in their company, Perpetual Guardian, in New Zealand. And since then, we've been working with hundreds of companies from a diverse range of industries all over the world to support them to trial or transition to this reduced hour, productivity-focused approach. It's based around the 100-80-100 principle, our work, which is 100 per cent pay, 80 per cent time, in return for a commitment to delivering 100 per cent of the output. And right now, we're co-ordinating a series of pilot programmes internationally in Australia and New Zealand, in the US and Canada, and also in the UK and Ireland. We've something like 160 companies with roughly 8,000 employees participating in those programmes in the first six months of this year alone. 

Thank you for that, Joe. And we will jump into questions from Members to get some more information about your experience and some of those trials that are happening across the globe. But, firstly, again we heard from Mark who set this petition up, and Shavanah Taj, about their views of the potential for the Welsh Government to support trials in the United Kingdom, and one of the questions behind that was: what benefits did they think a four-day week could bring, not only to the workers, but also employers in Wales? I wonder if I could ask you the same question then: what benefits do you think a four-day week trial, and a four-day week, if it was implemented in full, could offer both workers and employers in Wales?

Okay, so let's start with the easy part, which is I think that there is a really considerable body of evidence out there, both in terms of research and case studies all over the world, that suggests that reduced work time can lead to improved worker well-being, reduced burnout, reduced stress, and it's something that can be really transformative in terms of work-life balance for employees when it comes to being able to spend more time with family, in the community, learning new hobbies, new skills and so on.

What I think we've seen from an employer perspective over the last number of years is that a huge amount of companies who have done this have also reported that they've been able to maintain or improve business performance or productivity, which can almost seem counterintuitive. But, when you look under the hood, what these companies are managing to achieve is that they're using the four-day work week as a really powerful tool to align individual employees' interests and the company's interests, and to provide a real sharp focus not on the number of hours that people are spending in the office, at the desk or on the clock, but actually on the results that are being achieved and the output that's being produced.

In addition to that, we've seen, through the impact of the pandemic, that more and more companies and leaders are being drawn to this idea because of the potential to provide a competitive edge. So, we're seeing a huge amount of companies doing this because maybe they can't compete in the top 1 per cent of compensation, but the four-day work week means they can compete in the top 1 per cent of work weeks. We've lots of examples, such as Atom Bank in the UK, who have done this and have reported that their job applications have gone up 500 per cent, giving them a huge edge when it comes to recruitment. We've a company here in the US, Healthwise, a not-for-profit, that was experiencing a huge issue with retaining staff last June and July. They introduced the four-day work week in August, and their unplanned attrition and turnover has effectively fallen off a cliff.

So, I think, from a Government perspective, this is something that can also potentially provide a competitive edge. As you look at the economy and society as we emerge out of the pandemic, I think quality of life in a lot of ways is the new frontier for competition. And those societies that can offer a better quality of life to their citizens can really give themselves an edge when it comes to the global war for talent. And that's without even getting into some of the broader societal benefits, in terms of the potential for this to be revolutionary from a gender equality perspective, and the potential for this to make a significant contribution in terms of environmental benefits as part of our really critical challenge of the twenty-first century of fighting climate change.

15:05

That does build on from what Mark Hooper was saying—the petitioner—with regards to climate catastrophe and productivity in particular. Can I ask you—? It's the view of your organisation, 4 Day Week Global, and I quote, that the four-day week should

'benefit everyone, not just one slice of society.'

Would you be able to maybe expand on that a little bit, and just how you think that could be achieved, particularly here in Wales?

Well, I think that raises an important point, which is a concern that's out there, which is that the areas and the sectors of the economy where we're seeing the greatest momentum behind the four-day work week can tend to be in more professional industries. So, we're seeing in tech, in finance, in ICT and software, that this has really become a huge growing trend, to the point at which that I would not be surprised to see this becoming the norm or the standard in those industries in a matter of years. So, I think the challenge for Governments and for organisations like ourselves is how can we ensure that the benefits of this transition can flow to all sectors of the economy and all segments of society.

We've seen in our trials examples of companies and sectors that you might not associate with the shorter work-week movement being able to do this very successfully—whether that's manufacturing companies like Advanced RV, who produce custom motor homes here in Ohio in the US, whether it's Platten's Fish and Chips or Pressure Drop Brewing, the fish and chip shop and brewery that are participating in the UK trial. So, we've seen care services, we've seen manufacturing, we've seen hospitality—all examples of how you can make this work. But it is true to say that the rate of demand there is lower than it is in other sections of society. And I think that Government can play a really important role through its ability to incentivise and to consult and to engage with stakeholders in these sectors to bring them on the journey—that this isn't something that's purely being driven by private sector market demand, but that also Government plays a role in targeting those sections of the economy that really need to be a part of this very, very important conversation.

Thank you for that. And before I move on, would you see the role of Government then, given your answer, to perhaps have a focus, if they were to support any trial—and, obviously, we can't pre-empt any recommendation from this committee or decision of the Government—on supporting those who perhaps would not normally engage with a four-day week trial and those sectors that perhaps are more difficult to reach?

Well, I think there are a number of things that Government can do, and it's important to place this in the context of the five-day work week transition. The five-day work week didn't happen overnight in every country in every industry in parallel; this was a long, 20 to 30-year process. Before legislation was introduced to make this mandatory across the economy, it was a gradual process, through unions winning this through collective bargaining processes, pioneering business leaders like Henry Ford introducing this in his own firm.

So, I think that we're at the early adopter stage of a transition, and I think, right now, some of the things that Government can do would include, No. 1, ensuring that this isn't a private sector only thing. So, supporting trials of the four-day work week in targeted, discrete areas of the public and civil service is something that the Government absolutely has agency to deliver. The second thing would be supporting private sector employers who want to run trials, whether that's through incentives and subsidies, like some Governments have deployed, or whether that's through looking at legislation. So, one of the barriers that we have to often overcome is that a lot of companies that do this do it as a policy rather than a contractual change, because most employment legislation is very geared around the standard five-day work week, and, as a result, it can have unintended consequences for both the employer and employees in terms of pension entitlements, leave accrual and so on, to change contracts. So, I think that there's the potential for facilitative legislation that doesn't negatively impact employers and employees who wish to take this up.

And then I think, in addition to that, there's a role for Government to support research on the economic, social and environmental implications of this at a much more macro level. A lot of the research we're doing is very much focused at the company level and at the employee level, whereas I think there's a role for Government in that broader research.

And then, finally, absolutely, what you've described, to really take a targeted approach to engage with those sectors of the economy, like agriculture, hospitality, manufacturing, that need to be part of this conversation but where maybe there isn't the same level of activity right now.

15:10

Thank you for those answers, Joe, and I'll pass over to Luke Fletcher for further questions.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. You mentioned, in some of your previous answers, of course, the number of pilots that are already taking place currently across the globe, the UK being one of them. I'm very keen to see a pilot here in Wales as well. I was wondering if you would be able to outline what benefits developing a pilot specifically for Wales could bring.

So, I think that—. We have some Welsh employers that are participating in our UK trial, but I think the benefit of having a Welsh trial would really be, from the point of view of Government and for this committee, to give a much deeper understanding across different sectors of the Welsh economy what the impact of this could be. That is, the value of a trial is very much that it offers an opportunity for employers and employees to work together to test this out.

Part of what we're doing is assessing the impact of the trial on areas like well-being, areas like revenue, productivity. We're looking at how does this impact sick leave, absenteeism and employee turnover. And I think it's important to say that, while we talk about 100-80-100—. We believe that this can be achieved in most industries without sacrificing performance or without increasing employment costs, but that is not a universal thing. So, for example, if you take the famous study that was done in Gothenburg in Sweden in a number of care homes, what happened there was, they ran a trial, the impact on staff was very, very positive, the impact on patients was very, very positive—so, they reported that staff were more engaged, that there was more time for activities—but the trial was abandoned because of increased cost.

So, I do think there are certain sectors of the economy, like healthcare, where we would not say that you could introduce the four-day work week tomorrow for nurses, doctors and consultants and achieve the same level of productivity without increasing head count. However, it's about looking at this in the round. It's about, even if you have to hire a number of additional people, if there are benefits in terms of spending less on recruiting, retraining and upskilling staff, because you've a lower level of turnover, if you've reduced your sick leave bill, if you've less single-day absenteeism, if patient outcomes are better, because we know that there's a huge impact on health services all over the world of overwork and stress and burnout leading to negative medical outcomes.

So, I think, from a Government perspective, this is about much more than just a trade-off between the bottom line and a benefit for employees, which is very much the partnership approach that we develop with individual companies in our trials; this is about looking at the overall impact of this on the Welsh economy, society and environment. I think having your own programme would really provide a very good vehicle for doing that.

15:15

Thank you for that answer. I'm thinking now, again, about the Welsh pilot. Say we did do our own pilot here in Wales, could you think of any gaps in the evidence gathered through other four-day week trials that have been done across the world that a pilot in Wales could address?

I think the two biggest things we've touched on already from my point of view. One would be expanding participation into those pockets of the economy and society that maybe the voluntary trials that we're running, where, effectively, companies come to us because they think this would be a good idea for their business—. I think that's one thing that you can take a much more targeted, stakeholder-led approach to at a Government level.

And then I think the second thing is that right now we're looking at—. For example, we can look at the environmental impact in terms of what's the impact on the business—is commuting going down, is energy use in buildings going down. What's the impact on the individual employee? So, are people, because they've got more time to make sustainable choices, engaging in less intensive activities and behaviours and, as a result, is their individual carbon footprint going down? They're the kinds of things that we can look at in our trials, but there's then a question that—. The four-day work week is not a policy in isolation, so what is the broader impact connected to a range of other policy interventions that might be deployed at a national level in order to deal with some of these challenges around employee well-being, recruitment, sustainability, gender equality, which are much broader than the individual workforces we're currently looking at?

Thank you, Joe. One final question from me, Chair. You mentioned earlier, in one of your other answers, the Gothenburg trial in Sweden. We have discussed the Icelandic trial as well in the previous session. In terms of best practice, are there any particular examples of other trials that have happened globally that the Welsh Government should look to in terms of that best practice, if they were to look at a Welsh pilot?

I think that outside of the Icelandic study, a lot of the—. And this was part of our motivation in developing the pilot programme. I could point you to a huge range of case studies from a lot of different industries where this has been done successfully, often in very different ways, and achieved very positive outcomes. But other than the Icelandic case, a lot of the evidence out there to date is very much at an individual company level, and what we've been trying to do with this pilot programme is to demonstrate that the benefits and the success stories that individual companies and employers have experienced can be replicated on a much broader scale in different countries, different sectors and so on.

So, I would be hopeful, as you develop your conversations on this, that we will have the first data from our Ireland study and our first phase of the US study coming out at the end of next month, the start of August. Between now and the end of this year, we're going to have a huge amount of data coming on stream from the various different programmes that we've been running, and I would hope that there's going to be lots in there that will help you both in framing and developing your own trial, but also maybe identifying some gaps in our pilots and research that might be less of interest to the individual companies and employees, but might be more of interest to the Government as a whole.

Thank you. Diolch yn fawr, Luke. Thank you, Joe, for that. Can I make a request for the committee, then? When those pieces of information do come back to you at 4 Day Week Global, perhaps you could send a note, when you have time. It doesn't have to be straight away towards the end of the month, but perhaps through the summer period, if you get a chance to send a note on if there are any gaps that you see straight away and the data behind them for us to consider on our journey. 

Of course. I'd be happy to do that.

Thank you. Just before we go to Altaf, Luke Fletcher has one more question.

Sorry about that, Chair. I just thought it would be useful if you potentially know when you would see the results for the current trials. Roughly when will you be seeing those results?

15:20

If we take it that the results are likely to become available roughly about a month after the trial concludes, that we should have a report available at that point, we're looking at August for Ireland and the first few North American companies that started a little bit earlier, we're looking at October for the remainder of North America, we're looking at December for the UK, and then we're looking at next January or February for Australia and New Zealand. So, by the turn of the year we should have the vast bulk of the current participants having completed their trials and results analysed.

Thank you, both. As I said, Joe, it would be useful, perhaps, to have some of those early results, because, I think, as a committee, we'll probably want to report certainly in the near future, so perhaps before the UK ones are available. But, certainly, Ireland and some North American would be very useful for our consideration.

There's just one quick thing I'll mention. We actually do have some initial mid-point results from the first trial. We do surveys at the start, the mid point and at the end. These are not final results, but the early indications we're talking about just from the first 500 or 600 employees in that initial trial—so, it's a smaller group than the later ones—are trending very positively. So, we have improvements in work satisfaction, we have improvements in well-being, reduced feelings of stress and burn-out, increased feelings that people actually have more time to get their work done, even though they're working fewer hours. The only area that we've seen that's flatlined is job satisfaction, and our sense is that that is likely down to the fact that (a) there's a little bit of self-selecting bias in our programmes in that it tends to be employers that are already quite progressive and quite flexible that participate, and therefore the level of job satisfaction was likely to be quite high already, and (b), for a lot of these companies, they had already announced the trial before the baseline surveys were issued, which can obviously skew the results to some extent because it can mean that people's uptick in job satisfaction might already have built in before the surveys. I just thought it might be useful to put that on the record.

Thank you very much, Chair. Thanks, Joe. Very good. There is so much overlap of the answers and the questions, so you might hear my questions again, having already asked that. What assessment of the strengths, weaknesses and costs have you undertaken when looking at other four-day pilot schemes?

The only area that we're not measuring in a standard uniform way across the different companies that we're working with is productivity, because, for obvious reasons, you can't measure productivity in the same way in an IT company versus how you measure it in a group of restaurants. So, in that area, we're actually working with the companies either to track and monitor their current productivity metrics or to work with them to design and develop metrics. For a sales company, it might be whether they're hitting their sales targets. For a tech company, it might be their objectives and key results and so on. Everything else that we look at we can look at in quite a standard way, company to company. So, we're looking at revenue, we're looking at what impact the four-day work week trial is having on the company's bottom line, and then we're also looking at a number of cost drivers. In other words, we're not focusing just on the headline, but also some of the second-order potential costs or benefits. In other words, if companies who introduce the four-day work week are seeing a significant drop-off in unplanned employees leaving, then that obviously has a second-order impact on the amount of money they're spending on recruiting new staff, maybe using recruitment agencies, the money they're spending on retraining and upskilling in order to replace people in those key roles.

Thank you, Joe. You did mention the NHS and that it might not be applicable there. There are issues like primary healthcare being provided by a very small staff, and there are healthcare providers who have fewer staff than the huge hospitals that we have here in England or Wales. How would a hospital or that small particular place manage with a four-day working week, and what discussions have you had with NHS leaders about the impact on nursing and medical care?

15:25

As I've already said, we don't necessarily see every industry taking a one-size-fits-all approach. Even within healthcare or industries like that, there's a huge difference. Some companies that we work with can introduce this with a universal day off. You might be an advertising agency and you can shut the office on a Friday because your work or your value is derived around delivering X project for Y client to a certain standard in a certain time frame, and actually having people available to each other to collaborate and work together is more important than being available and responsive five days a week. But, obviously, for a huge amount of sectors, that is not a feasible model, and that's why a lot of companies that do this do this on the basis of devising shifts and rosters to ensure that they can maintain coverage and maintain service through the work week.

Obviously, in much smaller organisations, or in organisations that already have a significant issue with understaffing, that isn't going to be something that's going to be very easily implementable. And that's why I think that it's important when we talk about healthcare that we talk about the public policy benefits of better rested staff and the impact that that could have on medical outcomes, regardless of whether there are increased costs to the Exchequer. Secondly, for example, it might be the case that maybe you can't deliver 20 per cent of efficiency, maybe you can deliver 10 per cent of efficiency and the remaining 10 per cent needs to be made up in the form or targeted hiring in certain areas.

When you look at this on a macro level, what are the parts of the economy where we need to be investing in creating new jobs? If you look at the caring economy, this is a sector of the economy that is very, very low carbon and it's very, very unlikely that roles within that sector are going to be automated any time in the near future. So, actually, as an area of the economy that you really target to say, 'We're going to improve work-life balance for staff, in turn we're going to improve patient outcomes, and we're going to use this as an opportunity to create employment in a sector where there's going to be a need in the longer run to create employment', I think that's where this conversation becomes very, very interesting and very, very relevant.

Thank you very much. Chair, my last question is: would you apply the right to a four-day working week to teachers? And if so, how do you propose to fill the gaps in the teaching week when people will still need to be taught?

I actually think there's a discussion going on in the UK Parliament right now on teaching and a potential four-day week for children. There are a couple of things that are relevant here. First of all, there's a reality that, as I said earlier about the five-day work week transition, there are some sectors and industries where this is going to be more straightforward to implement much more quickly—the low-hanging fruit, where I could go into a company or an industry tomorrow and I work with them to identify poor meeting discipline, distractions and interruptions in the work day, poor use of technology, outdated processes, certain tasks that could be automated, and effectively they find the four-day work week is already here, it's just buried under the rubble of this waste an inefficiency that can easily be removed. There are other areas where it's going to require much more creative thinking and much more innovation. But that doesn't mean that it can't deliver significant benefit.

For example, think about the other activities that schoolchildren could engage with on the fifth day if you were to move to a four-day work week for teachers. I'm not going to get into those, but, as public policy people, if you think about the kinds of ways that we could actually use that additional time to enrich and to add fulfilment to the school and life experience for children, I think that you can probably get not so far away from contemplating how a four-day work week might work in schools. And, again, the four-day work week for children and the four-day work week for schools to some extent are separate conversations, because as we've seen in other companies, you can operate an industry for five days while giving the employees four days, and you can possibly also do it the other way around. So, without having all the answers, it's just to say it is absolutely something that if you get creative about thinking how it might work—. And we've actually got examples here in the US of private schools who have done this already as a recruitment and retention mechanism for teachers.

Thank you very much. Thank you, Chair. I would use that fifth day for physical education. Thank you very much.

Diolch yn fawr, Altaf. Thank you, Joe. I am conscious of time, but we do have some important questions from Jayne Bryant, so I'll head to Jayne Bryant next.

Thank you, Chair, and hello, Joe. I'll try and roll a couple of questions into one, really. You’ve touched a little bit already on some of the things you think will be important for Governments to do in supporting the implementation of a four-day week trial. Perhaps you could just highlight if there are any other things you’d like to add to that, and also, from your experience of working with other Governments during the implementation of the four-day week pilots, are there any particular Government approaches that have worked particularly well, and why do you they have worked well?

15:30

I think that, to some extent, outside of the Icelandic case, again, a lot of the Government exploration of this—. So, we’re working with the Valencian Government, who are launching their pilot later this year; the Spanish Government nationally we expect to follow that soon thereafter. As you know, this is being explored in Scotland. The UAE introduced a four-and-a-half day work week for their entire public service almost overnight. Iceland did it with a four-year consultation, the UAE did it almost overnight. So, I would be loathe to say that there’s one best way to do this. However, I do think that that suite of measures that involves ensuring that the testing and experimentation of a four-day work week is cross-sectoral—. So, therefore, No. 1, within the public and civil service, identifying the areas where this can be trialled and really supporting that within Government would be one thing; identifying those areas within the private sector that need additional incentives, support and engagement in order to really make them part of this conversation and this research, I think, is important; investing in much more macroeconomic societal and environmental research on the impact.

So, for example, if you take the environment question, Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden did some research on this that suggested that moving to a four-day work week or reducing work time by 20 per cent could lead to a 16 per cent reduction in carbon emissions. Now, that was very much focused at the company level. I think some of those benefits in some industries are already built in by virtue of the remote working transition. So, that may be overstated, but I do think that there is a—. When you think about public policy measures that could be implemented that don’t impact economic performance, but which make a very, very significant stride forward in terms of carbon emissions reduction, I think that this should be probably nearly at the top of the list of things that could be done in a way that maybe don’t attract the same level of opposition and controversy as maybe some of the other measures that Governments are really struggling to get across the line within the time frame that they need to be made to happen.

And I think, to me, they’re the critical things that we think Government can really play a role in right now: pilots in the public sector, supporting pilots in the private sector, looking at legislation to examine whether flexibility can be given that employers that consider a 32-hour work week to be full-time work do not get unfairly penalised. I think these are the kinds of things where Government could really usefully help in contributing to this movement.

Thank you, Jayne; thank you, Joe. Any final questions from Members? No. Okay. An opportunity, very briefly, Joe: you don’t have to, but if there are any final comments from you.

I think if you look at the history behind this, the five-day work week, we invented it 100 years ago for the industrial and the manufacturing age, and we’ve seen, particularly since the late 1970s, early 1980s, almost a flatlining in the average work week. The standard work week has not changed over that time, and the kinds of technological advancements and productivity gains that we’ve seen during that period, John Maynard Keynes could scarcely have imagined or scarcely have predicted when he thought that we’d all be working 15 hours a week by now, based on the kind of growth in productivity and technology that he predicted a century ago. So, we’ve seen globalisation, the internet, e-mail, but yet we’re still—.

So, I think that we need to ask ourselves a question as a society: is it the case that the five-day work week is appropriate for the digital age, or is it the case that this is just a societal and cultural construct that became so deeply embedded that it took a great disruptor like the pandemic to make us rethink? And I think that’s what we’ve seen. Leaders are rethinking it from a competitive point of view, managers are much more open-minded to this because remote working in a lot of sectors forced them to trust their workers and forced them to focus on measuring what gets done, rather than how long people spend at work. And I think, workers, their horizons have shifted. An idea that maybe people thought was pie in the sky a few years ago is something now that they believe is imminently achievable. And I think that their expectations about what a reasonable life-work balance is has been hugely impacted by the last few years, and has probably changed forever. So, I think, for these reasons, the time is now. This is the opportunity to really radically rethink how we live and how we work, and the balance between those. We have the technological tools and the productive capacity to make this happen, with the right leadership and with a creative, innovative approach.

In the same way as we say to CEOs, 'Is your biggest risk that you do this in your company or you try it and it fails, or is your biggest risk that your biggest competitor does it first?', I think the same goes for governments. I think that we are in an age where taxation is less likely to be the biggest driver of competition, certainly as we move into the space of tax harmonisation at an EU level and at a US level. The countries that are able to offer the kinds of quality of life that people are really clamouring for are the countries, I think, that will put themselves at a significant advantage. And we can see, with the momentum that's taken place in the last few years, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, Spain—. We've seen moves around this in Slovakia, in Japan. All over the world, this has become a global movement. So, I think that you can go from being a leader to being a laggard in this space very, very quickly. So, I think there's a real opportunity here for Wales to grasp this.

15:35

Well, Joe, thank you. I think we're all very grateful for your attendance today from New York. It's been a fascinating session. I think I said in the Senedd, just perhaps a few weeks ago, that when I served my time as an apprentice, my mentor said that a person who's never made a mistake has never made anything. So, we should learn and improve from our mistakes and not be afraid of failure. I think that leaves us at a good point to end today's committee session, but we are very grateful to you, and we look forward to having perhaps an ongoing conversation. Certainly, we look forward to seeing those outcomes from your trials across the globe. And, if we do have any further questions, I'm sure we'll be in touch. But we'll also send a transcript to you—to check for factual accuracy—of today's committee, and if there is stuff that needs changing, please amend with our clerking teams. And if there's further evidence that you wish to submit to our committee, then, please, do so. But, for now, thanks very much, and we wish you well in the future. Diolch yn fawr. Thank you.

I appreciate it. Thank you.

6. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 (ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod
6. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Okay, then, moving on to item 6, that does conclude today's public business. So, we will now go into private session to discuss the evidence that we've heard from the two sessions today. Could I propose, therefore, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix), that the committee resolves to meet in private for items 8 and 9? Are Members content? I can see they are.

Just to note, then, our thanks to all those who have given evidence to today's committee. I think they've been some really helpful and useful sessions, which will have posed questions for us all. Thanks to all Members and the clerking teams, in particular Altaf and Jayne, who have joined us as substitutions. It's been delightful to have you and you're always welcome back. And to note that the committee will next meet for the final meeting of the Senedd term—. It's flown by, I'm sure. Time flies when we're having fun. And we will meet on 13 July for the final time, so I very much look forward to that. On that note, diolch yn fawr, meeting closed.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 15:39.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 15:39.