It was Ed Miliband who called for all workers to have the right to flexible working earlier in the week – in a speech that pointed out that GDP isn’t the be all and end all of everything. (At present only carers and parents can do so automatically.
Which made me think: Why not give every public sector worker the voluntary right to take off one or two weeks a year of extra holiday – in return for a cut of 2 per cent or 4 per cent in their annual pay (ie the equivalent)? It would be a temporary measure. Pearson, which owns the FT, gives staff a 4-week sabbatical every four years with no obvious impact on productivity; this would be the equivalent. Incidentally, it is also very popular.
Saving We calculated in the FT’s seminal deficit-buster that a 5 per cent cut in public sector pay would save £5.5bn a year. By my estimate, if an eighth of public sector workers took the two-week option and a quarter took the one-week option it would shave 1 per cent off the total public sector pay bill. That’s around £1.1bn.
The case for it This is the kind of lateral thinking which enabled the private sector to emerge from recession with fewer job cuts than some experts had predicted. In some cases workers went much further and discussed taking salary cuts to prevent job losses. Most staff can presumably live with a pay cut of 2 or 4 per cent, in particular if they have no children, are reasonably well-off or have low mortgage repayments. Those that can’t withstand such a cut don’t have to take it. It’s a win-win situation, surely. It should also prevent some staff cuts and allow organisations to retain skilled workers.
The case against it There is already resentment – at least in tabloidland, where everyone is always angry – at the idea of civil servants taking one or two extra bank holidays each year. Giving them another week or two for leisure (even in return for a pay cut) could prompt a smorgsabord of raging red headlines.
Critics will start to question, unfairly in my opinion, why workers are needed if they can do them with less working days. This kind of logic might also deter public sector workers from taking up the offer.
Meanwhile there are some functions, particularly in the NHS and education, where rotas are already complicated enough without staff taking eight weeks holiday a year. This could provoke friction and in some cases mean bringing in temporary workers – at high cost – to cover the absences.