Y Pwyllgor Deisebau

Petitions Committee

11/07/2022

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Altaf Hussain AS Yn dirprwyo ar ran Joel James
Substitute for Joel James
Buffy Williams AS
Jack Sargeant AS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Luke Fletcher AS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Cheney Hamilton Find Your Flex
Find Your Flex
Dr Will Stronge Autonomy
Autonomy
Louisa Neale Swyddfa Comisiynydd Cenedlaethau'r Dyfodol Cymru
The Future Generations Commissioner for Wales’s Office
Yr Athro Abigail Marks Prifysgol Newcastle
Newcastle University

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Gareth Price Clerc
Clerk
Kayleigh Imperato Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy 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 drwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 14:00.

The committee met 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 warm welcome to you all to this meeting of the Petitions Committee.

Can I welcome everyone to this session today? This is a remote meeting of the Senedd Petitions Committee. Just a quick reminder to all those taking part today that this is being broadcast live on Senedd.tv, and the Record of Proceedings will follow and be published as per usual. Aside from all the procedural adaptations relating to conducting meetings in a remote format, all other Standing Order requirements remain in place.

Item 1 on today's agenda is apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest. We have received apologies from Joel James, and I'm delighted that Altaf Hussain is joining us once again on the Senedd Petitions Committee as a substitute for Joel. So, welcome, Altaf. I do remind committee members to declare any declarations of interest either now or at the relevant point as we go through today's proceedings. I see there are no declarations. 

2. Sesiwn dystiolaeth - 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 - P-06-1247 We call on the Welsh Government to lead the way by supporting trials of a four-day week in Wales

Item 2 on today's agenda is a session, again, taking evidence on P-06-1247, 'We call on the Welsh Government to lead the way by supporting trials of a four-day week in Wales'. I'm very pleased to be welcoming witnesses here today for our third evidence session on this important petition. I will remind you that this is a bilingual session, and questions can be asked or answered in the language of your choice. On that note, I will ask you to introduce yourselves, please. 

Hi, I'm Abigail Marks. I'm professor of the future of work and director of research at Newcastle University Business School. 

Hi, everyone. I'm Will Stronge, director of research at Autonomy, and I also have a hand in our four-day week consultancy service. 

Hi, I'm Louisa Neale, lead change maker for people and culture at the office of the future generations commissioner. 

Hello, I'm Cheney Hamilton, founder and chief executive officer of the Find your Flex group, a member of the all-party parliamentary group on the future of work, and a digital anthropologist for Bloor Research. 

Thank you all for joining us today. We're very pleased to have you with us. We have already taken evidence, as I suggested before, from the petitioner, Mark Hooper, and 4 Day Week Global. So, the last time we sat as a committee, we were live in New York. It's great to have you all with us. I will jump straight into questions from Members, if that's okay, and we'll start off in the Rhondda with Buffy Williams. 

Diolch, Chair, and thank you all for joining us this afternoon. Can you set out your views on a four-day week and whether the Welsh Government should support a pilot of this?

Thank you, Buffy. An open question to start. Perhaps I'll pick Louisa to go first, and if witnesses would like to flag if they would like to come in as well. But Louisa to lead. 

Thank you. The five-day week as we know it has been the norm for over 100 years. Things are very different now. Change has been happening at an accelerated pace, given technological advances, for example, and also the COVID pandemic has made us incredibly adaptable to reprioritise and rethink how we can change things for the better. The commissioner has called on the Welsh Government to pilot a shorter working week in parts of the public sector, and the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 requires the Welsh Government to use joined-up thinking and long-term solutions in this regard. It is our view that a shorter working week could form part of a preventative set of measures, addressing carbon emissions, entrenched inequality, skills improvement and, ultimately, enhancing employee well-being.

It's a popular idea, with our report showing that 57 per cent of people asked supported a Welsh Government-backed scheme to move towards a shorter working week. Our report advocates a three-pronged strategy calling for a trial in the public sector, a coalition of the willing in the private and third sectors, and obviously collaboration with trade unions so that shorter-hours negotiations can take place across a range of workplaces. 

14:05

Thank you, Louisa. I'm going to assume, Will, considering your organisation wrote the report in collaboration with the future generations team, you probably don't need to add more to that. Professor Marks to come in first, and then, Cheney, we'll come to you.  

What we do know is that the current working week in the UK is not optimising either worker well-being or productivity. We know that for a fact. I think I keep going on about this, but there's clear evidence of work intensification, so the increased rate of physical and mental input into work tasks during the working day, and also work extensification, where work is extended in terms of both informal and formal movement beyond expected working time.

However, if we look at the experiment in New Zealand's move to the four-day working week, it actually didn't seem to resolve these issues. People that have undertaken slightly more detailed research on it suggest that work was not only intensified even further, but so too were management pressures around performance measurement, monitoring and productivity. This is likely to be worse in the UK, as we are the overtime capital of Europe and the overwork capital of Europe. 

I think what we really need to do is look at getting employers to take responsibility for this work intensification. People are not coping. I think the four-day working week is a great idea, but I think that there are steps that need to be taken before we get to that point—so, really being much more mindful of overwork, work intensification, work extensification. And once we can reduce that, then we start working to looking at either reducing the working day or reducing the working week. 

I would agree with Abigail on most of that. We had a chat about it last week. For me, and certainly for the businesses that we work with and the conversations that we're having, the four-day week doesn't really go far enough; it's a plaster—it's one of a multiple amount of solutions out there that need to happen. We need to direct all of this back to organisational change. We need to see businesses becoming outcome focused, because that's the only real way that we're going to be able to monitor the delivery of this as well. We don't need another plaster, we need a proper future-of-work solution. For me and the conversations that we're having with businesses, outcome is the way forward, because it addresses the clear business need for what needs to happen, but it also addresses how we can help people. There's got to be a 50-50 balance between what's going on in business and what's going on with people. We've got to protect the sustainability of jobs moving forward, and the only way to do that is for all businesses and Government to move towards outcome working.

Will, you wanted to add something there, and then we'll perhaps go back to Buffy for a further question. 

I just thought that I'd add that I was not sure the dichotomy between helping to address work intensification and shorter working hours is that useful a framing here, and that you have to do one before you do the other. Obviously, loads of interesting and innovative ideas are happening across the economy—co-operatives here, wage ratios here, and trade union representation in different sectors to different extents. Therefore, shorter working hours shouldn't be dismissed because in other parts of the economy there are other issues. I don't think that dichotomy is that helpful. 

What do you see as the potential drawbacks of a four-day working week? 

I'm going to look to, perhaps, Abigail or Cheney here. Shall we go to Cheney first, and then Abigail? 

For me, it's mismanagement in terms of the sheer level of leadership and management training that's going to need to be provided to businesses to actually do this effectively. It's got to go hand in hand with outcomes, objectives and key performance objectives being met to actually improve concept. As I mentioned, it's not a very inclusive viewpoint or starting-off point for me; it doesn't create access to work, and I think in a cost-of-living crisis, that is what we need to be the main focus of any change to our working dynamic. So, for me, that's the key thing, I think. Like I say, there are better solutions out there that are more inclusive, if we are going for a wholesale Government-backed approach to increasing flexibility.

The other side of this is that a four-day week isn't actually flexible, it's just another way of working flexibly. It's not a one-size-fits-all solution, and this again harks back to inclusivity, in terms of the sheer volume of roll-out and management and everything else that needs to go hand in hand with this kind of 'solution'. 

14:10

We are going to come on to some further questions that will, perhaps, delve into alternatives, but can I just pick up on something that you said there? You said that this wouldn't be your start point, essentially. For a brief answer, what would be your start point?

I think the starting-off point is addressing how much organisational change needs to happen for this and whether the outcome, as a more holistic view for change, is the better starting-off point. I think that where automation plays into the impact on the actual volume of jobs available over the next 10 years—. I mean, the Government are already suggesting that 10 million jobs are at risk. We would suggest, or our research suggests, that it's more like 25 million. I think if you don't—. If businesses don't start putting outcomes and output out there, which is what they're doing for their digital workers, which are replacing six human workers for every one digital worker that goes into a workplace, I think we've got a real problem here that we're going to absolutely miss the boat and that the workforce will go global and we won't be part of it.

So, I really think that British businesses need to look at outcomes and look at formulating jobs, and creating sustainable jobs, in the same way that they do for digital workers, but do that for human workers. I think, for me, that's the starting-off point and that's where businesses will find their own internal flexibility, which they can then pass on to their workers.

Yes. I think there are a couple of points I'd like to make. Generally, I'm agreeing, again, with what Cheney says, but I think that, when we're looking at a four-day week, it's actually not realistic or viable across all sectors. The sectors where it's clearly not viable—so, for example, hospitality, hotels, education, construction—are those that tend to have the poorest-paid people. Also, if we're looking at some platform workers, it's really, really not viable. So, potentially, for those types of jobs where it is viable, compared to those where it isn't, we're going to leave further separation in society between the affluent and those who are struggling.

But, going back to the original point, what if the employees across the board are working too hard and this is having an impact on productivity—they've got too few breaks—and, therefore, with models of a four-day week that frequently don't alter existing workload, they're just not viable. The four-day working week is a brilliant idea, but I think, in the current work environment, it's really difficult to implement. Employers do need to take responsibility, or start taking responsibility, for the overwork that's clearly happened, look at reducing workload and reducing the amount that's expected within a working day. And again, as Cheney said, other forms of flexibility need to be embedded before the four-day week. If people can't manage their work in a five-day week because of overwork, then they're not going to manage it in a four-day week. As we've seen from the New Zealand trial, or the close analysis of the New Zealand trial, it's potentially really damaging.

Thank you, just a few comments on that. I think we shouldn't get hung up on the results of a single company in New Zealand when there are many of us who have done consultancies and have done work with companies—dozens of companies—across the UK economy and beyond that have done four-day week trials successfully and have published the results of that. So, focusing on Perpetual Guardian in New Zealand—. I don't think it's helpful to constantly refer back to that.

There's a huge amount of research out there about the shorter working week. There's the results from the Reykjavik, Iceland study. There's now going to be a €10 million booster fund in Spain. Obviously, the Scottish Government is committed to it as well. There are many, many studies out there beyond these, which I don't want to keep listing, but it's important that we do refer to a good evidence base, rather than just simply one company.

I think, on the question about inclusivity, I shall refer to some work that we carried out with the Public and Commercial Services Union and the Scottish civil service. We interviewed hundreds of workers, workshopped hundreds of workers there, where the overwhelming result of those engagements was that a shorter working week—and, remember, it doesn't have to be a strict, rigid four-day week; we can talk about a four-day week being spread across five days, 32 hours across five days—the overwhelming response was that for care work, i.e. unpaid care work with family members or those with mental health issues, they all thought that this would help their well-being and be a really important change to the workplace, alongside other mechanisms. It's important to think that the shorter working week, the four-day week, is not a silver bullet. I don't know why we're talking about it as if there has to be one thing first, another thing second and so on, and that we don't have to have organisational change.

I actually agree with lots of what Cheney said. I agree with all that organisational change and leadership. All that stuff's really important, but it sounds like you're saying that that's stuff that needs to come with a shorter working week, and I think that's true. I think that's how to lead as an employer; you do need to have a really innovative organisational model. If you're talking about automation, I do think, if we're going to reduce the working week because of technological change, how do we make that equitable for everyone? How do trade unions demand this? If you look at Unite's reports and so on, trade unions want and traditionally have responded to mechanisation with shorter-working-week demands. So, I don't think we're all on different pages here. We see the challenges ahead, but the shorter working week can be a way of spreading available work around, as well as allowing for those with different responsibilities to basically have a good work-life balance and a good working life. I don't think that's something we can all disagree with.

14:15

Okay. Thank you. I'm going to bring in Luke Fletcher now to ask further questions. Luke.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Thank you for being with us this afternoon. I found the exchange in response to Buffy's initial questions to be very interesting. If I could start by just asking generally of the panel, and I think again I'll start with Cheney and Abigail and work towards Louisa and Will—I was wondering if you can give me your views on what effect a four-day work week could have on workers in Wales.

Could we start with Louisa? I haven't heard a lot out of you yet, Louisa, so—.

Yes, absolutely. I think there are a number of immediate benefits. Some have already been alluded to and set out: more time with loved ones; more time to pursue things outside of work; getting involved with local community groups; pursuing educational activities; improved mental health and well-being and a reduction in stress; and another one potentially being higher job satisfaction. So, building on a point that I think Abigail or Cheney made earlier, we are experiencing a crisis of burn-out amongst workers. We term it a shorter working week rather than a four-day working week, because there are a number of options here. We think it could go a long way with helping some of those elements that I've just set out. It has been proven that a shorter working week is preferable to standalone holiday periods. A healthy detachment requires regular time away from work and a culture where we can switch off mentally. The positive effects of a holiday have been shown to fade after a few days, for example, but a shorter working week can provide much more regular recovery periods. So, for us, we would imagine that the positive results of these pilots would engender a much broader conversation and lead to more workplaces adopting these policies of their own in the future. So, I think it's got a raft of benefits, particularly linked to the well-being goals. 

Thank you for that, Louisa. Did anyone else want to come in on that point? Abigail.

I agree; in an ideal world, they would be the outcomes. But there are a number of caveats to that. Firstly, I think, as I said before, the workers where this is likely to be viable are white collar office workers. Yet, even though it's viable for white collar office workers, they are still a group that's significantly overworked, and we will probably still find seepage into the fifth day. There are studies beyond the New Zealand study that have raised concerns about the benefit of the four-day working week. In terms of Japan, the Microsoft trial in Japan, yes, there was increased productivity, but there were also issues in terms of well-being.

My big concern about this is it's still not expecting employers to take responsibility for current issues in terms of overwork, that it is likely to further separate the rich and the poor, or those that have employment contracts versus those that are in zero-hours contracts, hourly-paid workers, and, finally, I think it is really allowing people to avoid the main issue, which is that we've got to look at how to manage the work we have. We are in a situation where there are low levels of unemployment. So, it's not as if we can recruit new people to make up the shortfall in terms of the hours that we actually have. So, I think there is a whole myriad of issues; the four-day week is the ideal, absolutely, but I'm not sure it fits the reality at the moment.

Just to be clear, Abigail, just for the record, when you say that it's not viable, what do we mean by—? What's the reason why it wouldn't be viable?

14:20

It wouldn't be viable because people are overworked in five days; they're going to be even more overworked in four days, and I really, really worry about the impact on people's well-being. I think organisations need to take responsibility for overwork as it is, and then we look at reducing the working week, or we should be looking at other forms of flexibility. I think it is seen as a beautiful solution without really looking at what the underlying issues in terms of labour are at the moment. 

Okay. Did anyone else want to—? Cheney, I saw your hand come up. 

Yes, I think we need to look at how the businesses will be impacted by this just as much as the people, because, as Abigail quite rightly said, even moving to four days, if you don't see that increase in productivity, then those businesses are going to have to hire additional staff to deliver the outcomes that those businesses need from those roles, which is going to increase the cost. I think looking at different organisational models, as we've alluded to already, can provide solutions around that that offer flexibility without actually putting a stamp on it that it means that everybody's working a four-day week. There are better ways to find flexibility for workforces. 

I think the nineteenth and twentieth century work modalities are dead. Unfortunately, what COVID has highlighted is that (1) Government are not going to able to bail us all out again, and that means that the majority of organisational models in the country at the minute, Wales included, are far too fixed; they don't have that agility of workforce to be able to stay in a constant state of reinvention to be able to be agile to future pandemics, because there will be them. So, I think, as we all move towards post-work, which is where we will end up, whether that means, at some point, Welsh Government having to find a way to provide a universal income to supplement any working that people will do, I think that is absolutely 100 per cent where we're all heading to. I don't think that the four-day week is the delivery mechanism to get there. I think there are better options that support businesses as much as they support people, and I think outcome is where we need to be looking at in this regard, because it allows—. For the businesses where the four-day week works, it allows them to operate that way. For business where they maybe need to look at shared workforce, it allows them to operate that way. It takes a more holistic view, and it provides the business case alongside the people case, and optimises the well-being and wealth of the people, as much as it does reducing overheads for business. I think that, for me, is where we need to be looking. 

Thanks for that, Cheney. It seems to me that we don't have much to disagree on here in terms of the fact that people are overworked and there have to be some serious changes in the workplace. Productivity has come up quite a bit here, so, actually, if I could come to Will on this point, how could a four-day work week pilot affect productivity? Has there been—? Well, in fact, you've mentioned a couple of international comparisons, but perhaps it would be worth while just exploring the effects on productivity from them. 

Sure, yes. So, let's just be clear about some of the trials that are going on. Obviously, the UK's running the world's largest trial of shorter working hours or a four-day week—70 companies, 3,000 employees all taking part in this. And we now know, because of that massive swell of interest, that we're getting constant contacts from people who are just going there on their own. Large companies, I'm sure, will be coming out soon explaining why they did this.

Now, the effects on productivity are, to some extent, easy to understand. We're talking about a lot—. In these particular organisations, which range from desk-based work to breweries to other forms of customer service—obviously, Atom Bank, so far the UK's largest employer, about 400 employees working four-day weeks, no loss of pay; so, they have customer service operations and they've just come out with more data on the increased performance vis-à-vis their customers and so on—all these different organisations have different metrics for productivity. Now, the logic of the increased productivity gains from a shorter working week is, basically, your plug-ins of productivity are not just investment in tech, but also investment in people, i.e. you have fewer people, basically, being sick at their desk—presenteeism—basically, being ill but working and not working at full capacity, or taking sick absences because they're burnt out. If you reduce that and you increase a happier, more, effectively, company-loyal workforce of those who enjoy their work, then you basically get a better performance out of them in the working week, really. And so we're talking about better per-hour productivity. Usually, or in all the cases that we worked on in terms of the trials in the UK, it was maintaining performance absolutely as before, however that is judged, but in many cases it was actually going above and beyond that, precisely because the company's giving back to their employees. And this was something that Cheney was talking about in terms of leadership or organisational change—that what if you consider your employees not just as things to work to their bone with more hours, more hours, overwork, but also things to improve the quality of their life to improve the quality of their work. So that's the logic, basically.

Now, to speak to Abigail's point about how, in different sectors, there are different challenges, that is absolutely the case—let's talk about that, let's talk about how different sectors need different levels of engagement. The public sector, healthcare, teachers and so on, will need, for example, greater investment in staff, basically, greater employment opportunities. And that's important—we need to be doing things to create more employment, basically. Public sector four-day weeks are a really important nettle to grasp, really, because then you set a standard for the rest of the economy. In our report, which Louisa was mentioning before, we looked at the potential costs, on a very conservative estimate, of what that would be for the public sector in Wales, and given that you'd be able to move whole sectors of the labour market in Wales towards a shorter working week by increasing head count and sharing that work out, which is something that Cheney was talking about in terms of the reduction of the labour required, that will be game-changing. And that's something that I think is really, really important for the Welsh Government to consider, as with all governments, and we've said the same for others as well.

So, I think different sectors have different measures of productivity, but different sectors have different needs for implementation. There's desk-based work and there's healthcare and so on. So, let's tackle that, rather than say that's impossible. The five-day week was seen as impossible; it was exactly the same arguments that these things weren't possible 100 years ago. So, let's talk about how we actually—. If we agree that it's a nice aim, let's figure out how to get there, and that's the work that we're trying to do at Autonomy.

14:25

If I could—[Inaudible.]—for a moment there, Will, just in terms of— . We've talked about some of those challenges that businesses have faced. In Autonomy's report, it was mentioned that you've analysed and helped oversee shorter working week trials with a range of companies. Could you outline some of the key challenges faced by some of those different companies when implementing a shorter working week, and then to what extent these challenges were overcome? I know we're short on time, so I'll hand back to the Chair after that answer, unless anyone has anything burning they want to come in on.

Yes, absolutely. Look, there are always challenges when you make workplace changes. It takes leadership and it takes the ability to detach from perhaps habitual dogmatic attitudes to how your work should be organised, or how the organisation's work should be organised. It takes a delicate approach, you should engage and so on. Just on the challenges, obviously, basically, you have a mistrust between, for example, line managers and shop-floor staff—so, can you optimise your productivity or performance across a shorter amount of time, can staff be trusted to help rearrange their work and have more autonomy over their work? There are not always, but there are those tensions often. And I think, obviously, the companies that have managed to move to shorter working weeks, these pioneering first-adopters, they are organisations with good workplace cultures and the ability to be agile and dynamic, as Cheney was talking about.

We normally see the lack of prep. We've engaged with companies where we've analysed their data at the other end, and so we haven't helped around the trial, and they've just jumped into this thing, staff weren't really engaged at an early stage and, basically, there's been a clogging up of who's doing what as they haven't arranged their schedules together. And you need that kind of communication within these organisations. So, there's always going to be a risk of potential implementation issues. I would say that, despite that and despite staff having a bit of hesitation about this, the important thing is piloting it. And what we're talking about here is a potential pilot. And so we're not talking about, 'Let's just jump off that cliff, in the deep end, and see what happens'; the whole point is that we have a pilot, with good evaluative mechanisms, and a learning from the growing wealth of ideas about this. So, I think the important thing is, to avoid those teething issues, or to avoid any issues, to take this as it should be, which is a pilot, basically. Sorry, I'll stop talking.

Diolch yn fawr, Will and Luke. Cheney, I did notice you had your hand up during Will's contribution. I'm going to be very insistent on trying to keep questions and answers quite concise, because we are trying to get through this session, and we've got some more questions, from Altaf and then me as well. But, Cheney, I noticed you wanted to come in then.

Yes, there were a couple of things. Obviously, the public sector are trialling this. As Will said there, and I think I alluded to before, there's an already significant load of work that has probably already been suspended throughout COVID, where we're trying to catch up on the backlogs with, and moving to a four-day week is going to mean that the public services and public sector are going to have to try and find some more money from somewhere to pay to bring in more people into the organisations to deliver that workload. I think Will's already talking about a lot of this stuff being outcome focused, so then why not just move to outcome rather than putting a tag on it called the 'four-day week' and limiting how much people can work. Some people may want to work a five-day week in normal hours, some people may want to work two or three, some people might not want to work for one organisation but work for multiple ones. Outcome allows them to do that.

I think, when we look at productivity and how humans are starting to be looked at versus what businesses get out of a digital worker, which is 24/7, we really need to look at the fact that in a pay-as-you-earn environment we're also paying for holidays and sickness, and maternity and paternity, on top of productivity, on which I think CIPD, at the last count, said that we're only ever reaching about 75 per cent. That essentially means, for every single PAYE worker that you've got on your books, you're paying for 12 months, but you're actually only getting seven and a half months out of that worker, in terms of what you're paying for versus what they're actually delivering as an outcome or as an output. I think all of this stuff needs to be addressed, and I honestly don't think that a four-day week addresses half of that. We've talked about organisational change, we've talked about outcome, we've talked about all of the other things that need to happen to create agile workforces, and I just think we're missing the bigger picture here by just talking about one type of flexible working. 

14:30

Thank you, Cheney. Altaf Hussain. We've got just under 15 minutes left, but I am conscious that this is a good-spirited debate as well. Altaf. 

Thank you very much. It is a great discussion. Now, how do you think that moving to a four-day week will impact upon employers? Have any of your organisations looked at the impact that a four-day week would have on the number of staff needed to be employed in health or social services? 

Thank you. I'll be very brief; I know we've got more to cover. Yes, so in the report, which Louisa was referring to, the future generations commissioner and Autonomy report, we did a costing of, let's say, in a hypothetical scenario, which I think is not necessarily true—. We took the whole public sector in Wales, and we said, 'Okay, if we reduced the working week and if we needed to make up those hours by adding more staff, how many more jobs could be created, or would need to be created, on that very conservative estimate?' Now, remember that, because of the demonstrated productivity gains of a number of roles, you probably wouldn't need all of those staff, but we gave it a very conservative estimation, and that was around 37,000 jobs in Wales, basically, and the overall cost of that is about £1 billion, so including the costing of the average full-time staff member, the average part-time staff member, and that's around 2.5 per cent of Wales's current public sector spending. So, that would be the cost of a very conservative, full-blown four-day week big bang, and obviously what you'd want to do is integrate that. You'd have that strategy over a number of years. It's an offer to improve recruitment sales, like, 'How do you get people into the public sector?' Well, shorter working weeks might be an option and so on. So, it's around 37,000 jobs that could be created if this was done in one big bang, and that's around 2.5 per cent of current public sector spending.

I'm retired as an orthopaedic surgeon, and I know that we have 10 sessions in the NHS, and out of 10 sessions, three sessions go for your own professional development—one of the sessions goes for education, and also administration. Three sessions are already taken away, so you are working, really, for three and a half days. Now, my point is have you thought about—I've not heard anybody talking about this—annual leave, sick leave, member development, professional development and how that would be cleared? And have you ever thought that, if we divide the week into two three-and-a-half days, it will give you more productivity, you'll not stop working and you will employ many more people, although there will be a fraction less money that the person will be taking home? Thank you. 

Thank you, Altaf. I could see Cheney nodding through that, so perhaps we'll go to Cheney. 

Sorry, I was just coming back on the previous question, as well as this one, really. I think a four-day week is what is says on the tin. Yes, Will's right—you can slice it and dice it however you want, but I think it harks back to the four-day week. The only way that it's going to get any of its productivity outcomes is by looking at outcomes. Where we've done actual live pilots on outcome-based working and we've looked and we've worked with businesses, and we've piloted in just one team certain shared workforce models that are around outcome that would deal with, as you said there, Altaf, TUPEing teams over to create almost a superteam that works multiportfolio over multiple businesses, we've been able to reduce costs to the business. We've reduced overheads by 20 per cent over two years, but we've increased the wealth of the people in those teams by 25 per cent, because they're able to work multiportfolio. So, again, it's about thinking about doing this creatively, still reaching the same objectives and outcomes that Will and Louisa are suggesting by a four-day week, but just giving it a different delivery model to actually create these teams and these future-of-work businesses that we all need to create these mechanisms, which, again, will also put a pin or slow down that move to automation, because businesses are going to be able to actually have that agility with their own workforce, rather than looking at digitising their workforce.

14:35

Thank you, Cheney. I'll bring Abigail in, and then Will and Louisa, if you have any comments on it as well. I'll go Abigail, Louisa, and then, if we do have time, Will.

A couple of comments. We have been interviewing a panel of 70 or 80 people since the start of the pandemic, looking at how they're experiencing work, what they want in terms of the future of work. Certainly, what people want is to work fewer hours. People are overworked, they're exhausted, they want to reduce their work input. People want to do that in varying ways; it's not necessarily the four-day week. It's certainly in terms of managing the current input. There are a variety of solutions, I think, as Cheney has mentioned, in terms of reducing working hours.

I think something else that she mentioned that we haven't picked back up again is universal basic income. The only way to ensure any reduction in working hours, whether it's a 32-hour week, a four-day working week, is to introduce a universal basic income to ensure that we have equality of opportunity in terms of access to reduced working hours. That is a significant challenge for all.

The other thing that we need to be aware of is that, at the moment, we don't have a massive surplus labour force. We are in a period of low unemployment, so if the solution is to increase the number of people on the payroll in organisations, it's potentially not possible. So, any solution that involves that is not going to work. All these things need to be thought about really carefully. What worries me is that we're implementing a four-day working week without actually putting the infrastructure in place, and, as Cheney said, one of the parts of that infrastructure is to look at universal basic income to ensure equality.

Thank you, Abigail. In a personal capacity, I'm a big believer in universal basic income, and I know some other Members are, on the committee, and some of us aren't. I don't want to get too much into that. The committee has looked at the Welsh Government trial on a UBI before, but certainly I think we will note that for our consideration further on. Louisa, you did have your hand up, and then we might not have time, Will, but I might see if Altaf's got any final questions there. Louisa.

Thanks, Jack. I just wanted to draw on the Gothenburg trial, actually, of a six-hour day, which included around 70 nurses. The outcomes there were very positive impacts on health and well-being. There was a marked improvement in sickness leave and a boost in productivity, and 85 per cent more activities being arranged for patients. So, yes, I think there are examples of success within a health sector example.

Also, just picking up on Abigail's point about job creation and impact on employers, it is much more attractive to prospective workers, a four-day week. It's a fantastic recruitment tool, as well as a retention tool. So, employers would be seen as very progressive and forward thinking, and it's an absolutely ethical employment practice. I just wanted to make those points in response. Thank you.

Well, on that, really, I didn't still hear whether four days of working—. Does it improve the annual leave they are getting? Does it improve the sick pay, does it improve the special leave, and does it contain also that professional development time? Now, my question is: what can be done to ensure staff in minimum-wage jobs are not put under undue stress trying to complete the same tasks in less time?

14:40

Thank you for the question. Yes, it's absolutely essential that a four-day week or a shorter working week doesn't put staff under even greater strain, and therefore that's why it's important that, alongside these early adopting companies, alongside public sector efforts, we also have trade unions right there to negotiate how to implement this fairly, basically, to make sure that employers are around the table with them saying, 'This is something that is a good thing to do and we need to make sure that it doesn't have worse outcomes.' That's absolutely true. And if you look in history, that's how the five-day week was brought about. In certain pioneering industries, like mining and construction, after world war two, we had a reduction in hours, led by trade unions. So, we definitely need to have some kind of protections, particularly for those on low incomes. Absolutely. 

Just to answer your question from the previous questioner, because no-one really did, about medical workers, doctors and so on, that's a really good case of when, for example, shorter working hours allow for greater professional development and also less burn-out, basically. There have been some great studies around overwork leading to greater accidents, greater mistakes, and that's the kind of sector, the healthcare sector, where we don't want to be having these unintended errors because of very little sleep, a huge workload. So, even though it's a hard nut to crack in the public sector, the healthcare sector, with greater investment, a shorter working week could pay huge dividends. So, I really welcome the question there. 

One more thing, I just want to push back on this idea that we have low unemployment. We have a lot of hidden underemployment. What counts as employment in this country is basically one or two hours a week working on a platform or a self-employment contract. The official stats show low unemployment, but it's simply not true that we have low unemployment. We have a lot of underemployment, people who are looking for greater working conditions. And if you improve the formal labour market, the standard labour market, by providing better working conditions, greater pay, or whatever, a shorter working week and so on, then we allow for those who are involuntarily in this underemployed, low-hours work who are barely getting by to have better working-life conditions in the formal labour market. So, I don't think it's true that we have low unemployment. That's a bit of a myth when you drill down to the data.

Very briefly, I think the point about trade unions and a five-day working week is a different one. We have such low levels of trade union recognition, trade union membership, which has devastated workers' terms and conditions, which is why, partly, we're in a situation of overwork. I don't think there is sufficient trade union density at the moment for trade unions to have the power to support the four-day week. I think the example about the six-hour day is a really interesting one, and I think it's something that may be more realistic to look at than the four-day working week. Also, my worry about well-being is that people will try to cram more and more and more and more work into the four days, rather than the five days, which is going to lead to (a) people working even more excess in terms of overtime than they are now and more intensively during the work days that they're working. I think it needs to be really, really carefully thought out. 

Okay. Thank you for that. Before I bring you in, Cheney, I'm going to ask one final question. We've got about two minutes to go of our time, and it's been a good session. I just want to highlight, because I should have perhaps said at the start, that we have taken evidence from the Wales Trades Union Congress general secretary as well on this issue, so we've been looking at that.

I wanted to delve into some alternatives, but we won't have time to do that today. But perhaps our clerking team can send you a note, because I'm quite interested in that, and we've got some time—this is our last committee session, so we've got the summer to go over that, so it's not too pressured that you get back to us as soon as possible. But just very briefly, and perhaps to Cheney and Abigail: our job as a committee is to look at the petition in front of us, and the petition is asking us to call on the Welsh Government to lead the way by supporting a trial of a four-day week. And some witnesses have expressed that the pilot should be considered in the public sector, the devolved public sector. I'm conscious that you both have said about the universal basic income and also the outcome-based approach and so on, but would you, if the Welsh Government were to support a pilot, see that as a good step forward? A simple, very brief 'yes' or 'no', really. Cheney.  

14:45

I would say 'no' because I think there are better alternatives that could accommodate a four-day week in there. I think the fact that the Trades Union Congress came out this morning and said that one in nine workers are now either zero hours or contingent kind of staff, be that contract, or zero-hours or just agency staff—I think that shows the appetite out there for flexible working and a four-day week doesn't go far enough. And the only way to get true ground-zero on flexible working is outcome.

Okay, thank you, Cheney. Abigail, I could see you nodding in agreement, could I?

Sort of. I would say, not at the moment. I would say, put the infrastructure in place before you do the trial. I think at the moment, the trial will either give very short-term results or will fail. I think, get the infrastructure in place and then do the trial.

Okay. Louisa and Will, I'm going to say that you differ in opinion on that considering the commissioner's office called for a trial and Will you supported that.

I'm going to call the session to a close there. This has been a really fascinating discussion, actually, and a good debate. Just as we do finish, just to remind you that there will be a transcript available and if there are any inaccuracies there that need correcting, please do let us know. And an option here, really, if there's something burning that you haven't been able to get out today and you wish to, please do follow that up by writing to us. And I think we will—we haven't got the time for this discussion today—or may have some questions; I suspect we will have some questions that we would like to follow up on particularly around the alternatives to a four-day week and what that may look like. But with that in mind, I will say 'thank you' and 'diolch yn fawr iawn' to you all. It's been a fascinating last evidence session of our Senedd term. I'm sure all Members do agree. So, we thank you for your time and we'll certainly be in touch. But you're very welcome to stay and watch the rest of the thrilling committee session, but I'm conscious you all have busy schedules to attend to as well. But on that note, we say hwyl fawr, goodbye, and thank you.

3. Deisebau newydd
3. New Petitions

Okay, moving on, then, to item 3 on the agenda today: new petitions. And item 3.1, P-06-1281, 'Urgently stop raw sewage discharges into Barry's Old Harbour and Watchtower Bays':

'We call on the Welsh Government to help stop raw sewage discharges into Barry's Old Harbour and Watchtower Bays. These discharges originate from combined sewer overflows and are discharging increasing amounts of sewage due to the increasing number of heavy rainfall events due to climate change.

This bay has recently been identified as a area which is supporting important wildlife and watchtower bay is regularly used by many cold water swimming groups and paddle-boarders and kayakers.'

There is additional information available to Members, and it was submitted by Robert Curtis, with 1,633 signatures. And I would like to bring Members in to discuss today's petition and look to Luke Fletcher to do so.

Diolch, Cadeirydd, and I'd like to thank the petitioner for putting the petition in as well. I think this is a particular issue that's had a lot of attention and a lot of work has been done on this as well. Surfers against Sewage is one of the many organisations campaigning on issues such as this. Looking at the Minister's letter, the Minister notes that the old harbour and Watchtower bay are not designated as bathing waters, so are not routinely monitored by Natural Resources Wales. There's also mention as well that there is a process for people to apply to designate new areas as bathing waters. So, looking at the letter here, it requires evidence of high numbers of bathers between 15 May and 30 September. I think there is potential here for us to encourage the petitioner to pursue this process, which is already in place, and I'd be interested as well if the clerks, or I'd be grateful if the clerks, could share links to the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee's reports on this issue as well. I think that would be quite useful. I think on that point I would thank the petitioner again for submitting the petition. There seems to be a process in place already, so I would recommend that we do close this petition.

Diolch yn fawr, Luke, for that suggestion. I can see Members are in agreement. And again, it's a reminder of an issue getting highlighted at the Welsh Parliament, so I do congratulate the petitioner there and I'm sure the clerking team will follow that up.

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

Moving on to item 4: updates to previous petitions. Item 4.1, P-05-924, 'Ensure that every school in Wales has Wellbeing Ambassadors', submitted by Dŵr-y-Felin school well-being ambassadors, with 297 signatures. And I remember these excellent students from a couple of times meeting them. I ask Buffy Williams to speak to their petition.

14:50

Diolch, Chair. I can see that the Minister is already improving the anti-bullying strategy. I'm not quite sure where we can go now with this petition. I would hope that schools who already have the peer mentors, and are doing best practice, then, share that good practice with other schools, so that they can see how it's done. So, I think we should thank the petitioner, because this is a very important subject, and then close this petition, because I really can't see where the committee now can take this petition.

Thank you, Buffy. And, again, I can see Members nodding in agreement, and I agree too. Just to add, I know, as individual Members, we can have those conversations. I actually discussed this petition during a recent school visit in my own constituency, and mentioned the good practice of what they're doing. I think we can all take it upon ourselves to highlight the good work they're doing, but certainly congratulate them for (1) engaging with our process continuously—they haven't just engaged once, they've been very good petitioners—and (2) congratulate them for what they're doing in their own communities. 

We do thank all the children, past and present as well, because I remember some students have now moved on from that school, so we congratulate them too. And I'm sure they'll become the leaders of the future, no doubt. 

Item 4.2, P-06-1251, 'Secure the Right to Remote Access for Disabled and Neurodivergent People', submitted by Caley Crahart, with 158 signatures. And I bring in Luke Fletcher to discuss this petition.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. I think the pandemic has brought a lot of different challenges in this particular area. There are benefits to remote working, but there are also some serious negatives as well for a number of different groups, really. I think that universities have a lot of work that needs to be done in terms of communicating with those where remote working might not necessarily be best for them. And on that point as well, I think it's worth thanking the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales and other higher education institutions in Wales for their response to this petition.

I think the important point is that we should be encouraging all students, as they go to university now in September, to engage with the universities and their courses on how they're being delivered to ensure that they're being delivered in a way that is beneficial to them, and, as a result of that, that the universities do listen to their students. I think, though, we have taken this petition as far as we can as a committee. So, on that point, I think we should thank the petitioner for what has been, I think, a very interesting petition. It has highlighted an issue here in the Senedd, and I recommend that we do close it on that basis.

Thank you for that suggestion, Luke. I can see no further comments and Members are in agreement. So, we'll action that. 

Moving on to item 4.3, P-06-1268, 'Review the process for pre-assessed status for onshore turbines, which unfairly disadvantages individuals', submitted by Non Davies, with 515 signatures. And, again, I'd like to invite Members to discuss this petition and any actions to take. Buffy Williams.

Diolch, Chair. The Welsh Government has made it clear that it believes that the pre-assessed status does not disadvantage individuals. I'm not sure where we can go with this petition now, so I think that we should thank the petitioner for bringing forward this petition, and close this petition. I really don't see what we as a committee can do apart from bring this up in the Chamber when we're discussing this issue. But other than that, I don't know what as a committee we can do going forward.

Thank you, Buffy. I will bring in Luke in a second. It's also important to note that I think the last time we covered this petition we did seek to write to the Minister to ask for the guidance about that, and the Minister has come back to us saying it will be published before the end of 2022 as planned. So, we received that assurance, and the guidance will be updated later this year. Luke, you wanted to come in there.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. I don't disagree with Buffy's suggestion at all. I think, as a committee, we've gone as far as we can with this one. I do think that there's an important point to make, though, in terms of, as we go towards net zero, which we all agree is the right way forward, that it's important that we try to bring communities with us on that journey. I think that's an important point to make. But, again, I don't disagree with closing the petition; I don't think there's much more that we can do as the Petitions Committee now. I think it's now down to us as individual Members to—

14:55

Thank you for that. I can see agreement from all Members. We will action those points.

Item 4.4, P-06-1277, 'Save A&E. Withybush General Hospital must retain 24 hour, 7 days a week, Consultant Led urgent care', submitted by Jacqueline Doig, with 11,168 signatures. We held a Plenary debate on this on 29 June, which I spoke in on behalf of the committee, and, certainly, it was a very local Member-led debate, both from the regional and constituency Members who spoke in the debate. And I think I noted in that debate that it wasn't the first time that a passionate debate on this issue had been raised in the Senedd, and I'm sure that it won't be the last time. But, certainly, as a committee, I think that this is probably as far as we can take it, having led the petition in particular to the floor of the Senedd and the heart of democracy. So, I do say, on that note, thank you to Jacqueline and those 11,000 plus people who signed the petition. On this occasion, we will have to close now, and I can see that Members do agree with that—they do.

Okay. Moving on, item 4.5, P-05-1086, 'Create a National Museum for Welsh Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic History and Heritage', submitted by Yasmin Begum, with 490 signatures, and I again invite committee members to discuss this petition, bringing in Luke Fletcher.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. I see now that we have received that letter that we were waiting for from The Heritage & Cultural Exchange, which we're incredibly grateful for—I know that it's run by volunteers, so we're incredibly grateful for the response that they've given us here. From that response, I can see that the collection is currently with Glamorgan Archives, so it's good to know that it is being stored safely, or at least I assume that it's being stored safely, and that it can still be viewed by members of the public. I mean, ultimately, I'd want to see this on display, but I think, in terms of what we can do as a committee now, we've gone as far as we can go on this. I certainly will be continuously asking questions—and I'm sure that there will be other Members as well—in terms of when we can see this collection on display. But on the basis of what I've just outlined, I would suggest that we do thank the petitioner for submitting this petition, highlighting, actually, I think, a very important thing with us as a committee, but also as part of the wider Welsh Parliament, and close the petition.

Yes, just a point about—. It is that issue that we are living in a country where you have many cultures, and, over the years now, we're seeing that all cultures are running parallel to each other and there's no integration. Now, if we have this separate museum for certain ethnic minorities—black, Asian—again, we are creating that dichotomy, rather than having one museum where we are all there and there is no distinction between white, black, Asian, anybody—we're all British there. That should be put forward, rather than this, you know—. Because, tomorrow, you never know, maybe somebody else is going to do something different, you know, on why we are there. So, I think for that integration and taking this country forward, going as one nation, as British, we need to have one voice, one museum. Thank you, Chair.

Diolch yn fawr, Altaf, for those comments there, and I think we're in agreement with the suggestions made.

Papur i’w nodi
Paper to note

Okay. Just one paper to note, then, in relation to 4.6, the petition P-06-1275, 'Call on the Government to reconsider its decision to withdraw from the Llanbedr bypass scheme'. And it's a letter from a local councillor, which is urging us to reject the petition and in support of the Minister's emphasis on seeking alternatives to building that bypass. Are Members happy to note that paper? Yes, they are. Okay.

15:00
5. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill cyfarfod
5. 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.

Well, that does conclude today's public business. We will go into private session now to discuss the insightful, I think, and well-debated evidence session today on the four-day week pilot. And also we will discuss our draft report on the very important petition calling for Mark Allen's law. Can I propose, therefore, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix) that the committee does now resolve to meet in private for the remainder items? I can see Members are content. They are.

As it is the last session of this Senedd term, can I thank all members of our committee, including those who have joined us as substitutions? Altaf, great to have you, again, here. Can I thank all those who've signed, submitted and supported petitions? And in particular, can I thank the clerking team, the broadcasting team, the research team and all those who have supported us as Members to do our job in this? And I very much look forward to being with you again live on Sendd.tv on 19 September later this year. So, enjoy your recess and I look forward to seeing you all soon. So, diolch yn fawr—meeting closed.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 15:01.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 15:01.