• Sweden's news in English

'Six-hour work day will hurt Sweden'

The Local · 15 Apr 2014, 08:20

Published: 15 Apr 2014 08:20 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Gothenburg recently announced a political experiment. Some public employees will transition towards a six-hour work day, but keep their full time wages. The left-of-centre majority hopes to prove that fewer working hours is a viable option for the near future.

Working less is a popular idea also on the national level. The Greens want shorter days plus seven extra days off work a year for parents with small children. And they want the state to pay benefits to people who want to take a sabbatical. The Left Party also wants the six hour work day, which it included in the party's recent ten-year plan.

Working less, earning as much. It sounds tempting. But political action to reduce working time risks, in my view, increasing unemployment, funding shortfalls for the welfare state, and increased inequality.

The people who say yay say this: If a person cuts their hours, it creates surplus work that an unemployed person can take on. But I've found that little research gives support for this hypothesis. 

In the study “The myth of worksharing”, Arie Kepteyn, Adriaan Kalwij and Ashghar Zaidi argue that fewer working hours does nothing to employment rates. Based on Swedish data, Tor Jacobson and Henry Ohlsson have found that there is “no long-term relation between hours per worker and employment”.

Jobs aren't commodities that you can just share with someone else. At present, many Swedish employers struggle to find competent staff, for example in the manufacturing industry where a lack of technical know-how among job seekers has slowed down production.

If Swedish engineers cut their hours, production would slump even further.

That would put the brakes on other parts of the industry, for example subcontractors but also the hospitality industry that feeds those engineers for example. 

But what about jobs that require few or no special skills?

One of the key problems on the Swedish employment market is that few entry-level positions exist. Merely five percent of the jobs in Sweden require no special knowledge, which is the lowest share among the EU countries. The few entry level positions could, at least in theory, be subject to job-sharing.

And reduced hours has done little to reduce wages. In fact, as people stay on the same salary, the average cost of labour per hour goes up. This does not benefit the unemployed, who would be seen as even more expensive to would-be bosses.

Then there is the simple notion, held forth by people who love this idea, that we can be as effective in six hours... I am far from convinced. As a general rule of thumb, if we work less, we produce less.

The National Institute of Economic Research, an independent wing of the finance ministry, found that reducing hours quite simply reduced how we use capital and how much we produce.

Put simply, if we work 25 percent less, our standard of living would fall by a quarter too.. As will funding for the welfare state.

Maybe an individual family would feel fine with reducing how much they spend on food, gadgets, toys, trips etc, but the welfare sector? How many people in Sweden would accept fewer (or worse) schools, hospitals, and home for the elderly?

I also think we should be talking not of decreasing hours worked, but the opposite.  

Income inequality in Sweden shows up not just in people's salaries, but is evident in how many hours they work, the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (Svenskt Näringsliv) has found in a tally. The quarter of Swedes with the highest incomes work some 64 percent more hours than the quarter with the lowest incomes.

Story continues below…

Ironing out the difference in hours worked would already today slash 70 percent off the income gap.

So how would reducing working hours affect equality? The self-employed already set their own working hours. Partners in firms and those aiming for high-achieving careers also often choose to work more hours than their employers’ demand of them.

The people who work more, and earn more, don't listen listen to political dictates. We do not, after all, live in a planned economy. 

Work-hour reducers instead take aim at the badly paid public sector which employs a lot of women. It will, I argue, entrench inequalities rather than sandpaper them down. 

Cutting work hours brings with it more problems than its proponents wish to acknowledge. The same parties that wish to fight inequality are proposing a policy which would take Sweden in the opposite direction. 

Nima Sanandaji is a regular op-ed contributor to The Local.
His latest book is called “Renaissance for Reforms”, co-authored with Stefan Fölster.

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Hundreds protest Swedish asylum laws
Around 1,000 people protested in Stockholm. Photo: Fredrik Persson/ TT

Hundreds of people on Saturday demonstrated in Stockholm and in many other parts of the country to protest Sweden’s tough new laws on asylum-seekers.

Dylan removes Nobel-mention from website
The American musician has more or less responded to the news with silence. Photo: Per Wahlberg

American singer-song writer Bob Dylan has removed any mention of him being named one of this year’s Nobel Prize laureates on his official website.

Refugee crisis
Asylum requests in Sweden down by 70 percent
Sweden's migration minister Morgan Johansson. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

Sweden received 70 percent fewer requests for asylum in the period between January and September 2016 than it did during the same time last year, the country’s justice and migration minister Morgan Johansson has revealed.

The unique story of Stockholm's floating libraries
The Stockholm archipelago book boat. Photo: Roger Hill.

Writer Roger Hill details his journeys on the boats that carry books over Stockholm's waterways and to its most remote places.

Refugee crisis
Second Stockholm asylum centre fire in a week
The new incident follows a similar fire in Fagersjö last week (pictured). Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Police suspect arson in the blaze, as well as a similar incident which occurred last Sunday.

More misery for Ericsson as losses pile up
Ericsson interim CEO Jan Frykhammar presenting its third quarter results. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

The bad news just keeps coming from the Swedish telecoms giant.

Facebook 'sorry' for removing Swedish cancer video
A computer displaying Facebook's landing page. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

The social media giant had censored a video explaining how women should check for suspicious lumps in their breasts.

Watch this amazing footage of Sweden’s landscapes
A still from the aerial footage of Sweden. Photo: Nate Summer-Cook

The spectacular drone footage captures both Sweden's south and the opposite extreme, thousands of kilometres north.

Sweden could be allowed to keep border controls: EU
Police ID checks at Hyllie station in southern Sweden. Photo: Stig-Åke Jönsson/TT

Sweden could be allowed to keep ID controls on its border with Denmark beyond the current end date of November, following discussions among EU leaders in Brussels last night.

Why women in Sweden will work for free by November
File photo of a woman working in a Swedish office. Photo: Anders Willund/TT

A new study into the gender pay gap suggests Sweden still has some work to do.

Sponsored Article
This is Malmö: Football capital of Sweden
Fury at plans that 'threaten the IB's survival' in Sweden
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
Here's where it could snow in central Sweden this weekend
Analysis & Opinion
Are we just going to let half the country die?
Blog updates

6 October

10 useful hjälpverb (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! I think the so-called “hjalpverb” (auxiliary verbs in English) are a good way to get…" READ »


8 July

Editor’s blog, July 8th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hej readers, It has, as always, been a bizarre, serious and hilarious week in Sweden. You…" READ »

Sponsored Article
7 reasons you should join Sweden's 'a-kassa'
Angry elk chases Swede up a lamp post
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
The Local Voices
'Alienation in Sweden feels better: I find myself a stranger among scores of aliens'
People-watching: October 20th
The Local Voices
A layover at Qatar airport brought this Swedish-Kenyan couple together - now they're heading for marriage
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Swede punches clown that scared his grandmother
Sponsored Article
Swedish for programmers: 'It changed my life'
Fans throw flares and enter pitch in Swedish football riot
Could Swedish blood test solve 'Making a Murderer'?
Sponsored Article
Top 7 tips to help you learn Swedish
Property of the week: Linnéstaden, Gothenburg
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Swedish school to build gender neutral changing room
People-watching: October 14th-16th
Sponsored Article
'There was no future for me in Turkey'
Man in Sweden assaulted by clowns with broken bottle
Sponsored Article
‘Extremism can't be defeated on the battlefield alone’
Nobel Prize 2016: Literature
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Watch the man who discovered Bob Dylan react to his Nobel Prize win
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
Record numbers emigrating from Sweden
Sponsored Article
'There was no future for me in Turkey'
People-watching: October 12th
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
The Local Voices
'Swedish startups should embrace newcomers' talents - there's nothing to fear'
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How far right are the Sweden Democrats?
Property of the week: Triangeln, Malmö
Sweden unveils Europe's first elk hut
People-watching: October 7th-9th
The Local Voices
Syria's White Helmets: The Nobel Peace Prize would have meant a lot, but pulling a child from rubble is the greatest reward
Missing rune stone turns up in Sweden
Nobel Prize 2016: Chemistry
jobs available