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Should B.C. move to a 4-day work week? A look inside the debate

Provincial minister of labour Harry Bains says there no plans to change existing labour laws
BC Green leader Sonia Furstenau has called on government to launch a pilot project for a four-day workweek without any changes in pay. (Black Press Media file photo)

Work four days, but get paid for five.

BC Greens believe this formula will help the provincial economy attract more workers while giving them a better work-life balance.

Leader Sonia Furstenau said Thursday (Feb. 23) it’s time for the province to rethink work in calling for a three-year-long pilot project that would see government give participating businesses a tax break in exchange for data.

“A four-day workweek — without cuts to pay or working longer hours — is exactly the kind of innovative, people-first approach that can spark renewal in our workplaces.”

Furstenau said available evidence shows that a four-day workweek is good for businesses and workers.

“People are exhausted from trying to keep up with rising costs of living, inadequate healthcare, and working through a pandemic,” she said. “Business owners and managers are facing a significant labour shortage and are struggling to keep employees.”

A government-financed tax break would help businesses cope with rising costs, while shorter workweeks would reduce stress and illness among workers without hurting productivity, according to the proposal. It might even boost it.

“The time has come to test a new way of working that fits in the world we want to shape. This pilot would be the start of renewing our economy towards better working conditions, wellbeing, and a healthier life.”

Initial reactions to the proposal have been lukewarm.

BC Liberal leader Kevin Falcon said that efforts should be made to grow the private sector to help fund public expenditures.

“(If) all we are doing is thinking about new ways of layering new costs or impacting productivity, that is going to be challenging for the dollars that we need to be able to provide important public services.”

Lumping in the BC Greens with the governing New Democrats, Falcon said both parties have “layered a lot of new costs” on small business.

“Whether, it is the Employers Health Tax, whether it’s five-day-paid sick leave, whether it’s increased corporate taxes, whether it’s increased WCB costs — now they are talking about four-day work weeks,” he said. “Everybody needs to really understand that all of these costs have an impact and that impact can ultimately make it more difficult to generate the kind of tax revenue the government needs, so that we can fund services.”

The BC Greens backed the minority government of former premier John Horgan when it introduced the EHT and raised corporate tax rates and publicly supported five-day-paid sick leave when Horgan’s majority government introduced the measure.

The Greens’ proposal, however, also has some support among business. Blackbird Interactive, an independent game development studio located in Vancouver, backs the proposal after having trialed it.

Chief executive officer Rory McGuire said a four-day work week simply made more sense than the standard, five-day, 40-hour schedule.

“It was an idea with a high level of employee support and we saw the advantages very quickly during our initial pilot program, including better focus during work hours, higher morale, and increased efficiency,” McGuire said. “We have since made the transition to the shorter work week permanent with no intention of going back. We believe it’s a better way of doing business, for all levels of the company.”

Labour Minister Harry Bains said in a statement to Black Press Media there are no plans at this time for changes that would allow a four-day work week, adding that employers and employees are not prohibited from making such arrangements.

“The Employment Standards Act, which establishes the minimum standards for employees in the province, has provisions that accommodate shifts and flexible work arrangements.”

The BC Chamber of Commerce does not a have an official position on a four-day workweek, when asked for comment.

“What is most important to our members is that the costs shouldered by businesses are lowered so they can succeed and their communities can thrive,” Fiona Famulak, president and chief executive officer, said.

“(We) need to implement policies that improve our province’s productivity and help ensure our economy is firing on all cylinders.”


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