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4-Day Workweek in Poland: A Boon or Bane?

ECONOMY4-Day Workweek in Poland: A Boon or Bane?

With the current low unemployment, the widely felt lack of workers, and the steadily decreasing number of people of working age (a decrease of over 150,000 people per year), reducing working hours, for example, to four days a week will not be offset by an increase in employment. National production will decrease, and with it, people’s incomes will decrease, says Jeremi Mordasewicz, an advisor to the board of the Confederation Lewiatan. In the event of an economic crisis and a sharp decline in demand for workers, reducing working hours, for example, to four days a week, may limit layoffs. It may therefore be justified for social reasons.

If it is possible to reduce working hours without reducing production in a company, it can be done. However, in the case of a statutory reduction of working hours and consequently lowering workers’ incomes, particularly hardworking and ambitious individuals will be more inclined to emigrate to countries that do not hinder their path to prosperity. The French did not emigrate en masse after reducing working hours because it was hard for them to find a country offering better living conditions, but Poles can choose because the standard of living is higher in many countries. An increase in emigration, naturally mainly of young people, would be a tragedy for our aging society.

Working Hours and Productivity

We also cannot count on a rapid increase in productivity to offset the reduction in working hours, as it depends mainly on the share of investments in GDP, which remains below 20%, against the needs exceeding 25%. The low – by European standards – labor productivity in our country is primarily due to modest capital resources and consequently the lack of advanced technologies and modern equipment, emphasizes Jeremi Mordasewicz.

It is true that we work longer than Germans or French, but remember that we are a society on the rise. Germans, French, or Scandinavians can afford shorter work because their companies have several times more capital per employee than our firms. Therefore, accumulating capital and investing in the development of new products and technologies, computerization and automation of production, and the development of sales networks is so important.

Investments Will Be Less Profitable

Unfortunately, the level of investment in our country is low. If we reduce working hours, buildings and machines will be used to a lesser extent, so investments in Poland will be less profitable. Additionally, investors will perceive that since we want to work less, the motivation to work apparently weakens, and they will choose other countries. Less investment means slower modernization of the economy, slower growth in productivity and wages, and slower growth in public service spending.

The assertion that reducing working hours can be balanced by increasing productivity is incorrect. Some of us indeed work too hard, and a person working too much is less efficient. So, the key question is, what does “too much” mean? Should the current 40 working hours per week be considered excessive exploitation of the body? Especially since, including free Saturdays and Sundays, holidays, leave, and sick leave, we work an average of 215 days a year and rest 150. We work as much as the inhabitants of Western Europe did at our current level of economic development.

Thanks to technical progress and organizational changes, we can count on a productivity increase in Poland of around 2-3 percent per year. Therefore, if we reduce the workweek by one day, i.e., from 40 to 32 hours, production – and with it incomes – will decrease by nearly 20 percent, and returning to the current incomes of workers will take us almost 10 years.

Increased Productivity for a Small Group of Employees

Thanks to reducing working hours, currently overworked individuals may indeed increase their work efficiency, but this will concern a small part of employees. For most job positions, to increase production, costly investments enabling automation and digitization of production and sales processes are necessary. Moreover, in the service sector, e.g., in gastronomy, hotel industry, entertainment, tourism, construction, or health care, the possibilities of work automation are limited.

Consequences for Health Care

Especially in the case of health care, the consequences of reducing working hours would be tragic. We are an aging society, so the demand for health services is growing. Meanwhile, we have too few doctors and nurses, and many healthcare workers are nearing retirement age. We are therefore forced to increase spending on healthcare. However, if we work and earn less, the inflow from contributions to the National Health Fund (NFZ) and the possibilities of financing health care will decrease, while the labor costs of medical personnel in overtime will increase. The result would be the collapse of health care.

A Strong Inflationary Impulse

And finally, one sentence about the impact of reducing working hours on inflation. Reducing working hours without a corresponding reduction in wages would be a strong inflationary impulse, as part of the wages would not be covered in production and services, and this is precisely the source of inflation. Let’s not legally limit working hours; let’s leave it to the joint decision of employers and employees – adds Jeremi Mordasewicz.

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