Four-day week ‘could put pubs out of business’

By Emily Hawkins contact

- Last updated on GMT

Mixed views: would pubs benefit from employing staff on 4-day weeks?
Mixed views: would pubs benefit from employing staff on 4-day weeks?

Related tags: Working time directive

Publicans have shared their views on whether they would be able to implement a four-day working week after the Labour party put the notion forward at its annual conference.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell outlined a goal to cut the average working week to 32 hours within a decade, should Labour win the next general election.

This means staff would only work an equivalent of four days a week, which the party proposed would be introduced without a loss of pay for workers. 

McDonnell told party members: “Since the 1980s, the link between increasing productivity and expanding free time has been broken. It's time to put that right.”

Trade body UKHospitality (UKH) tweeted that the concept could prove positive for pubs because members of the public would have more free time to spend in pubs.

UKH chief executive Kate Nicholls told The Morning Advertiser​ the proposals should not be misinterpreted and highlighted the sector's role in encouraging flexible working patterns. 

She said: “Working to live, as opposed to living to work, is a fantastic philosophy. Promoting flexibility and non-standard working weeks is also a great idea and one that the hospitality sector already embraces.

"What needs to be recognised, and what may have been misinterpreted, is that Labour is talking about reducing the average number of hours in a working week to 32; which does not equate to a four-day working week. Neither does it seek to impose a cap – as in France – and the focus would appear to be on full-time workers only.

“Pubs don’t operate on a 9-to-5 basis so, naturally, they do need staff to cover irregular hours, weekends and, sometimes, late nights.

“Measures to empower people to flourish in their jobs and increase available leisure time are always welcome, but we must remember that businesses like pubs are already working to make people’s leisure time enjoyable, and they need support too.”

How would it work?

How would it work?

John McDonnell outlined the proposals at his party's annual conference (image: Rwendland, Wikicommons)
John McDonnell outlined the proposals at his party's annual conference (image: Rwendland, Wikicommons)

The Labour party has said it would not directly enforce the policy on businesses but rather encourage industries to increase holiday entitlement and reduce working hours. 

McDonnell said: “We’ll require working hours to be included in the legally binding sectoral agreements between employers and trade unions. This will allow unions and employers to decide together how best to reduce hours for their sector.

"And we’ll set up a ‘working time commission’ with the power to recommend to Government on increasing statutory leave entitlements as quickly as possible without increasing unemployment.”

Alan Merryweather, who runs the Black Horse pub, in Leicester, with his wife Sarah, told The Morning Advertiser ​he would like to introduce a four-day week as a staff incentive and already made sure staff did not work too many hours. 

The pub currently employs 21 people who all work no more than a 4.5 days, the equivalent of 35 hours. 

“None of my staff (including chefs) work more than 35 hours and we are a living wage employer.”

He added: “Sarah and myself tend to work five or six days but we are lucky because we love it and its our business.”

The operator said although the pub had experienced problems with recruiting staff, it had a good retention rate because it treated staff well. 

Work-life balance

He said: “A four-day week would be brilliant if we can get the numbers to serve our guests. It would benefit the business because work-life balance is key in any industry, the world is changing so fast and people are doing so much more.

“We are no longer a Monday to Friday culture and the workplace needs to reflect that.

“As for is it manageable? [There’s] two kinds of people in this world. One who tries and make it work [and] one who will find the negative regardless of what happens.”

However, another publican felt it would not be feasible because they would struggle to meet the costs and demands of having to hire extra staff to make up gaps. 

Publican Louise Dinnes operates the Black Swan, Ravenstonedale, Cumbria, and said she would simply not be able to afford paying staff for hours they did not work.

She said: “The problem with this idealistic standpoint that the Labour Party does not seem to grasp is that to have a happy, healthy working environment, one needs a working environment.

“If I had to pay my staff the same wage for 10 hours less per week, I would no longer be in business unless I could increase my prices accordingly, which would be impossible.”

Cost pressures

Dinnes said she had never been worse off in the 13 years she had been in business despite a growth in turnover owing to cost increases including business rates. 

She added: “I am a great supporter of work-life balance and also believe that this industry is no different to others in staff recruitment and retention if the owners/management respect, reward and motivate their staff – it’s not difficult.

“It’s easy for any political party to make promises, but it’s not reality.”

In a poll on The Morning Advertiser’s​ Twitter page, 39% of those who voted said they would like to introduce a four-day working week. 

However, 36% said they would not have enough staff to do this, with 16% describing themselves as unsure about the issue.

Licensee Lee Murphy said he was implementing a “4 days in and 4 days off” schedule for his two chefs at the George & Dragon pub, in Abergele, north Wales.

“I think it's a winner,” he said in a comment on The Morning Advertiser​’s Facebook page.

Related topics: Legislation

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