13 July 2021

Annina Claeson: “In Iceland, the Reykjavik City Council, the trade union confederation BSRB, and the national government ran a series of trials of a four-day working week between 2015 and 2019 — the world’s largest experiment thus far in shortening working hours without slashing wages. … The Icelandic trials were a direct response to campaigning pressures from trade unions and other grassroots organizations. Over 2,500 workers in the public sector (more than 1 percent of the country’s entire working population) moved from a forty-hour to thirty-five- or thirty-six-hour working weeks without any reductions in pay. The scale of the trial, combined with the variety of workplaces involved (including both nine-to-five workers and those on nonstandard shifts) means that the Icelandic experiment now provides some of the best data available on the prospect of shortening the working week. It should come as no surprise that this data paints a positive picture. Workers reported experiencing better health and less stress and burnout, and they had more time to spend with their families or on leisure activities. Productivity and service provision either remained at similar levels or improved in the majority of workplaces. With Iceland’s unions playing a key role every step of the way, they wasted no time in building on the trial’s success to negotiate shortened working hours on a permanent basis. Thanks to a series of successfully negotiated contracts in 2019–2021, 86 percent of Iceland’s working population has either already moved to shortened working hours or gained the right to negotiate such reductions in the future.”