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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern suggested that the country should consider moving to a four day work week in order to encourage domestic tourism as the country looks beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ardern said in a Facebook Live video earlier this week that the decision “sits between employers and employees,” but that shortening the work week could ultimately boost productivity and help stimulate the country’s economy.
“I’d really encourage people to think about that if you’re an employer and in a position to do so,” Ardern said. “To think about if that’s something that would work for your workplace because it certainly would help tourism all around the country.”
The New Zealand government adopted strict lockdown measures in March, with one study showing that without aggressive action, the country could see an infection rate as high as 89% and as many as 80,000 deaths. Instead, the country of 4.9 million has virtually eliminated the pandemic, seeing just 21 deaths so far and going on its third day with no new cases, according to its tracker.
The country has also seen relative success at limiting economic losses due to the virus. Just an additional 1.6% of the country’s workforce had applied for unemployment as of April 17, helped by a “job seeker” benefit that offers USD320 to businesses per employee per week that continue to pay 80% of worker salaries, according to the centrist Brookings Institute.
Even prior to the pandemic, the idea of the four day work week had been gaining traction in labor and social democratic parties across Europe and the English-speaking world.
Finnish prime minister Sanna Marin has spoken favorably of a shortened number of work days or hours per day as a long-term goal for her party, and a four day work week proposal was part of the UK Labour Party’s manifesto before its crushing defeat at the polls last December. France famously adopted a 35-hour work week in 2000, which has been a point of contention basically ever since.
Ardern’s handling of the coronavirus crisis has made her the country’s most popular prime minister in nearly a century, a poll showed earlier this week, putting her party on track for a huge victory in parliamentary elections later this year. Former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark attributed Ardern’s success to her background as a “communicator” in an interview with the Atlantic last month.
“This is the kind of crisis which will make or break leaders,” Clark said. “And this will make Jacinda.”
Cover: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addresses a press conference after the 2020 budget at Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand, Thursday, May 14, 2020. New Zealand's government plans to borrow and spend vast amounts of money as it tries to keep unemployment below 10% in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. (Hagen Hopkins/Pool Photo via AP)