The COVID-19 global pandemic has disrupted all aspects of our lives.
During the upheaval our strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats have been exposed. We can either strive to put the pieces back together exactly as they were before the disruption, or we can thoughtfully and critically make changes that benefit people and the planet.
Last week New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern floated the idea of a four-day work week for her country. My colleague Sonia Furstenau raised the issue in an interview while discussing the economic recovery and potential changes that could be made in our province.
COVID-19 has changed many aspects of our society. My constituency and legislative offices are shuttered and I and my staff have been working from home for weeks now. While aspects of the situation are not ideal there are some benefits as well.
More people are working from home. Tech firms such as the Canadian giant Shopify are adapting their workplace to allow their employees to continue to work from home if they wish.
It’s not just where people are working that has changed. Our start and finishing times are evolving to accommodate the other aspects of life that need our attention. For example our family is challenged daily with balancing work demands with our children’s education.
400,000 British Columbians lost their jobs in March and April. It is impossible to know how many more will be impacted in May and the upcoming summer months. With such devastation in our society and economy it is important that our recovery creates more resilience and stability for people and families to create a healthy life in our province and country.
That is what I am focused on.
I honour the deeply challenging times many British Columbians are facing. How people are going to pay the bills is certainly top-of-mind, but people are also concerned with how they can work from home, educate their children and balance all the other complications that have become much more prominent in the past few weeks.
Employers are trying to figure out how they best utilize space for their employees while maintaining government orders and restrictions on creating safe workplaces for British Columbians. None of this is easy and must be addressed with a commitment to be thoughtful and compassionate in the ideas and policy initiatives that we put forward.
With that in mind it is important that we are flexible and agile in our approach. There is nothing sacred about the five-day work week. Indeed, before the Great Depression people worked five and a half or six days per week.
In the last election I and my BC Green Caucus colleagues ran on a platform of innovation. Innovation is not just how or where we make widgets. It’s about how,
- How we train and deploy a workforce to be flexible, adaptable and resilient,
- Where and when they work,
- How products are designed and manufactured,
- How services and experiences are delivered, and
- How all of these considerations impact how human resources are deployed.
There are many questions about how, where and for how long we work. The provincial government has an opportunity to facilitate these discussions and not shut them down unnecessarily. We have been hearing from stakeholders in many sectors that they are interested in exploring ideas and looking at ways they could be implemented.
It would be a great tragedy of this time if our response to this difficulty is to shut down conversation and just embrace the status quo.
There is a lot more work to be done on this idea. For it to be successful in British Columbia it must be informed and shaped by all the stakeholders including the business community, organized labour and workers. I’m excited that we opened this conversation in our province and encouraged by the responses we have received so far.
I would like your feedback. What do you think about a 4-day work week? Would it be an option that you would like? What are some of the benefits you can see and what are some concerns that you have about this policy? Please leave a comment below or send me an email.