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The truth about Sweden's six-hour workday

Daniel Bernmar is deputy-mayor of Göteborg.

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The truth about Sweden's six-hour workday

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Daniel Bernmar is deputy-mayor of Göteborg. He talks to Valerie Gauriat about the impact of the controversial six hour working day experiment led at Svartedalens nursing home, but also about the reasons and long term aims underlying such reorganisation of working patterns.

“Being the employer in this case, the gross costs are 6 million swedish crowns, which is a considerable amount. But looking at the public economy as a whole, looking at creating more jobs, which we do, lowering the sick leave, which we do, we see that the public sector net costs are about half, so 3 million Swedish crowns. That’s what we should calculate with. If you do a bigger reform, that you create more jobs, thus lowering the unemployment, but also improving work environment conditions, and creating more sustainable work life. And that has other beneficiary effects. Maybe more of the women working in blue collar sectors can work longer. Because now looking at the labour market as a whole, women in the public sector, which are mostly blue collar jobs, leave the labour market early, in their sixties. Often their early sixties rather than their later sixties. Getting lower pension benefits but also leaving the labour market earlier. And that does not create wealth for the economy as a whole. So if we’d also look a those factors, I think the costs will be even lower. But now we just look at the direct effect costs, and not at the longer term effects.

Looking at Swedish economy, looking at the government’s policy, initiative has been more about working more, working more, and now we see the side effects, where people work more, full time plus overtime. That surely creates more worked hours in the labour market and creates a worth in the economy as a whole.But now we see the backlash. We see the backlash in form of higher sick leave rates, not just in the public sector but in the private sector as well. And the costs of that. The benefits comes a couple of years later, you need to see more in long term how to create a sustainable labour market.

There is this counter argument to the fact that it is a costly trial is to look at the economy as a whole. Looking at the economy as a whole we see high productivity gains during the last 20 years. These productivity gains haven’t been exchanged in a better work environment, or in working less, but rather working more. And other people are gaining the benefits than the people working in the public sector, as in private sector. The difference is not that big, it’s about the same.

For me it’s a natural step to look at how we can improve the work environment and possibly get a more sustainable labour market where people work longer and feel better about working than they do today.”