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The shorter working week in engineering: surrender without sacrifice

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The paper examines the effect of the recent reductions in the working week of manual workers on the competitiveness of the engineering industry. The reductions, generally from 39 to 37 hours, were the result of a campaign by the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions after the break-down of national bargaining. There were substantial provisions to offset the cost of shorter hours in a large majority of the agreements which were analyzed as the first stage of the research. This analysis was followed by a number of factory visits to obtain a management perspective on what lay behind the collective agreements and on their effects. The results of these visits were used in the design of a postal survey of factory-level managers. The survey shows that the managers expected that over half the costs of the reduction would be absorbed by productivity improvements and lower wage increases linked to the cut in the working week. The two-hour reduction added less than one per cent to expected manual labour costs when the response were weighted by factory size. Expected costs were less for larger factories in particularly turbulent circumstances (that is reporting a greater than average increase in competitive pressures and considering major changes in work organisation) and where managers judged that union resistance to change had declined. Indeed, in factories to which all three of these factors applied managers thought that the shorter working week would actually lead to a fall, or most no increase in labour costs.

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