Could Canada see a four-day work week in a post-pandemic world?

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been discussing the idea of a four-day work week upon her country returning back to normal from the lockdown.
Quinn Patrick Montreal, QC

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been discussing the idea of a four-day work week upon her country returning back to normal after the coronavirus inspired lockdown, according to Global News. Ardern said it, "certainly would help tourism all around the country."

In Canada, the idea has also been tossed around before as well, although it has yet to be implemented.

"I hear lots of people suggesting we should have a four-day workweek," said Ardern. "Ultimately that really sits between employers and employees, but as I've said, there's just so much we've learned about COVID-19 and that flexibility of people working from home, the productivity that can be driven out of that."

An economist at the University of Concordia, Moshe Lander said that a four-day work week in Canada may help to stimulate the economy following our return from the pandemic. However he said it could also be "misguided" since people won't necessarily have more money to spend with their extra day off.

"The fact is, at the end of the day, if you earn $50,000 a year and you pay 40 percent of it in taxes, then you have $30,000 to spend," said Lander. "Whether you spend $30,000 in disposable income in four days a week, five days a week, seven days a week –the fact is that you have $30,000 to spend."

Lander believes that it would be "very difficult" to change a society that has already been built around the five-day work week for so long now.

"If I’m worried that tomorrow morning I could lose my job or next week, I could find myself locked down again, I'm not spending," he said. "It doesn’t matter how many hours you leave those stores open, even if you give me free home delivery with Amazon, it's not going to change the fact that I don't want to spend my money because I just don't know what tomorrow's gonna bring."

Lander also believes that shortening the work week would lead to issues with the supply chain for business who rely on international partners.

"It’s not that it's impossible, it's just that it's much more difficult than saying 'OK, we're going to implement this starting now,'" he said. "You have to get a lot of people on board and you have to think through a lot of the logistics of it."

"The idea that this is going to be the solution in the next 12 to 18 months while we're sitting around waiting for a vaccine — it's not going to change anything," said Lander.

Outside of economics, University of Toronto assistant professor Victoria Arrandale said that limiting the work week to four days wouldn't necessarily mean helping to slow the spread of COVID-19.

"The four-day workweek as an approach doesn't necessarily reduce the number of people contacting others," explained Arrandale.

Many businesses are considering opening for less time or staggering shifts to limit the number of people in the workplace at any one time to reduce the amount of people interacting with each other.

"And I think all of those could work in the context of a four or five-day workweek," she said. "But the four-day workweek would still need to take into consideration reducing those numbers of people that are present in the workplace."

Reopening any business with the presence of COVID-19 will never be "totally safe," said Arrandale, adding that we can try and be, "as safe as possible," such as using "engineering controls" whenever physical distancing can't be achieved.

"Things like the Plexiglass barriers that we're seeing nowadays in grocery stores and things like that," explained Arrandale.

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