The matter of a four day working week has been raised by the Four Day Week Ireland campaign led by Forsa, ICTU and other civil society groups. Correspondence on this issue has been received in my Department and I note that the campaign has engaged with the Tanáiste on their proposals.
In the context of the civil and public service, there are two main concerns in considering a move to a four day week - the cost to the taxpayer and ensuring the continuity of services to the public.
On the issue of costs, there are potentially significant costs associated with a move to a four day week in the public service. Significant additional recruitment would be required in order to ensure the continued delivery of essential public services, in particular in terms of frontline and emergency public services that must be available on a seven day basis.
A comprehensive analysis of the potential costs involved would involve a high degree of complexity, as it would encompass over 342,000 public servants in nearly 200 organisations. At a very high level, paying people for four days but providing services to the citizen over five and in some cases seven days would add at least a fifth to the current pay bill of approximately €21bn. That equates to an extra €4.2bn that would have to be found to deliver the same level of services. This is likely a conservative estimate, given the premiums associated with overtime and agency staffing, which would likely be required.
In addition, maintaining the accessibility of services to citizens would be a huge challenge. For example, would there be sufficient time in four days to teach our children properly? What would happen to childcare costs if the public service moved but parts of the private sector did not? And how would the emergency services - hospitals, fire brigades, lifeguards and the Gardaí - operate on a four day week?
These are essential public services, the importance of which has been underlined by the Covid-19 pandemic. The wider implications of this proposal also need to be carefully considered for the entire labour force, not just the public service. Indeed any movement by the public service in isolation could have serious consequences for, in particular, small to medium businesses already struggling in the face of Covid-19.
I would also like to make the point that the State is already a good employer that offers considerable flexibility to staff through the availability of, amongst other things, work sharing, flexible working hours, shorter working years, career breaks and now remote working. At this time, work is underway on developing a framework for ‘blended’ working, which is a priority area for my Department.
In my role as Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform I have to ensure that quality public services are delivered to the Irish people in a manner that delivers value for money to the Irish taxpayer.
With this in mind, and in light of the large potential costs and disruption to critical services I do not believe that it is the right time to consider a transition to a four day week.