Building a shorter working week – UK construction industry

Charlie Hertzog-Young:

We need a shorter working week with no reduction in pay for construction workers. Research shows long hours are causing serious problems: from on-site accidents and injuries, to addiction and suicide. Incredibly, there could be all sorts of other benefits.

So far most of the shorter working week focus has been on white-collar desk jobs, largely because of where it’s been prominently trialled (KPMG, Microsoft, Kickstarter, etc.) but only 40% of UK staff can work from home. Worldwide 80% of workers don’t spend their days at a desk.

If the movement’s going to be inclusive we’ve got to think about everyone else and whether a shorter working week can apply in their context. Ultimately this includes teachers, nurses, hospitality staff. We think the construction’s a good place to start looking at how this could play out.

Construction is the UK’s deadliest sector to work in, with more on-site deaths than any other & the 3rd highest rate for on-site accidents. Sleep deprivation means workers are 62% more likely to have an accident, overexertion being the 2nd highest contributor.

We need ambitious and forward-thinking construction firms to lead the charge. They’re the ones currently holding the power to make a shorter working week a reality. Workers are likely too dependent on tenuous contracts to insist on a shorter working week without risking economic security.

Unions will be crucial, just as they were at the birth of the five day week during the Great Depression, in protecting workers and pushing for change. The TUC already back it, as do the CWU & RMT. It’s time for that support to turn into a demand.

A shorter working week in construction could work, improving & even saving lives, while signalling a meaningful shift towards a more compassionate, healthy and fair socio-economic system. It’s not a panacea but it’s a start. The evidence suggests it’d be transformative, on-site and beyond.

This report assesses the desirability, feasibility and implementation potential for a shorter working week in the construction sector.

Click the image below to read the full report.