New Zealand prime minister suggests four-day workweek to recover from pandemic

omersukrugoksu/iStock
omersukrugoksu/iStock

By MEREDITH DELISO, ABC News

(WELLINGTON, New Zealand) — New Zealand’s popular prime minister floated the idea of a four-day workweek to promote domestic tourism as the industry — and country — looks to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

During a Facebook Live broadcast earlier this week, Jacinda Ardern said she had heard “lots of people” suggesting a four-day workweek following a hospitality meeting in the tourist hub Rotorua. Ardern noted that 60% of the country’s tourism industry is supported by domestic tourism.

“The question for me is, how do we encourage Kiwis to make sure that they go out and they have that experience? And when they go and visit somewhere, they don’t just stay with family and friends, but they get out and about and visit some of the amazing places and tourism offerings that we have,” Ardern said.

The prime minister said that ultimately a shortened workweek is a decision between employers and employees, but that there are lessons to learn from the pandemic, such as the flexibility of people working from home.

“The productivity that can be driven out of that really encouraged people to think about, if they’re an employer and in a position to do so, to think about whether or not that is something that would work for their workplace. Because [a four-day workweek] certainly would help tourism all around the country,” Ardern said.

Several countries, including France and the Netherlands, have reduced working hours. A trust company in New Zealand, Perpetual Guardian, also instituted a four-day workweek in 2018 after research found it was successful in reducing stress without decreasing productivity, Fast Company reported.

Last week, workplaces in New Zealand were able to reopen, as Ardern lifted most of the country’s restrictions. In addition to offices, all businesses, including restaurants, bars and retail stores, as well as schools, were able to open with social distancing guidelines in place. Residents are also allowed to travel between regions and hold events with up to 10 people.

Known COVID-19 infections have largely stabilized in the country over the past few weeks. New Zealand has had no new confirmed COVID-19 cases for two days in a row as of Wednesday. The South Pacific nation of five million has reported just 1,503 cases and 21 deaths.

In part thanks to her pandemic response, Ardern is New Zealand’s most popular leader in a century, according to a Newshub-Reid Research poll released Monday. Nearly 60% of those surveyed preferred her party, Labour.

A Newshub-Reid Research poll also found that an overwhelming majority of New Zealanders backed the government’s lockdown measures.

Last week, the leader warned that the Southern Hemisphere nation will have a “very tough winter.”

“But every winter eventually is followed by spring, and if we make the right choices we can get New Zealanders back to work and our economy moving quickly again,” Ardern said.

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