From The Independent (UK):
Britain is facing return of three-day week
Shorter hours would be preferable to mass unemployment, say government sources
By Jane Merrick, Brian Brady and Cole Moreton
Sunday, 25 January 2009
The prospect of the three-day week returned to haunt Britain yesterday as it emerged that ministers are considering paying firms to cut hours in order to survive the recession.
Tens of thousands of businesses are already planning to scale back working hours this year in an effort to stay afloat. But as the country comes to terms with the reality of a recession, it emerged that the Government is looking at compensating employees, through their firms – thereby drawing comparisons with the shutdowns of the 1970s.
Ministerial sources insisted last night that a scheme to help compensate workers was “not imminent” but said it was an option being discussed. It would match measures introduced by the German government.
The Thatcher government brought in a short-time working directive in the 1980s to cover earnings lost through shorter hours. Such a move would cost the Government millions of pounds, but would be cheaper than the huge rise in unemployment benefit claims as a result of job losses.
Many firms in the car industry have introduced or are considering a three-day week, such as Bentley Motors in Crewe and Nissan in Sunderland. But the practice is spreading to the rest of the manufacturing sector, and business leaders fear it is only a matter of time before other industries resort to the measure.
Three-day weeks have been backed by the unions, whose members are happier to take pay cuts than lose their entire salary and pension benefits.