Four-day work to be trialled in South Africa

 ·16 Sep 2022

A joint initiative between 4 Day Week Global and the 4 Day Week SA Coalition is inviting South African businesses to pilot a new working model in 2023 – with planning to start as early as November 2022.

“The four-day week is being adopted all over the world in a bid to improve productivity and wellness in the workplace. Now South Africans can try it too,” the group said.

The 4 Day Week is based on the 100-80-100 model, developed by co-founders of 4 Day Week Global, Andrew Barnes and Charlotte Lockhart, in the landmark Perpetual Guardian trial in New Zealand in 2018.

The model prescribes 100% of the pay for 80% of the time in exchange for a commitment to delivering 100% of the output.

“(The model) is being recognised as a way of supporting and empowering workers, enhancing organisational productivity and having a positive impact on societies and the environment,” the group said.

The biggest roll-out of the four-day week trial was launched in the United Kingdom earlier this year, where over 70 companies are currently experimenting with the new way of working.

Questions are now being posed about whether South Africa is ready for the model, and what challenges it could help solve.

“Being an early adopter and market leader in reduced-hour, productivity-focused working establishes businesses as innovative, progressive and forward-thinking. The greatest risk is that your competitors try this before you do,” said Barnes.

Locally, the National Business Initiative (NBI) and Stellenbosch Business School have joined other partners in the 4 Day Week SA Coalition, supporting a four-day work week as part of the future of work in South Africa.

“South African companies have the opportunity to test and rethink a way of working that, if done thoughtfully, could go some way in addressing workplace challenges and possibly our more complex societal issues,” the group said.

4-day work week in South Africa

Kirk Kruger, master reward specialist with the South African Reward Association (SARA), said that South African businesses as a whole are likely not ready to adopt a four-day work week on a permanent basis.

“I don’t think South Africa as a country or an economy is ready for this on a large scale, and interested employers will want to test the waters before committing,” said Kruger.

Potential adopters are more likely to be niche organisations, such as smaller and medium-sized technology companies. Even then, they should take time to investigate its impact on their operations, possibly running a pilot programme first, he said.

Kruger said that local employers must understand the model, decide if it will work for them, and know how to implement it effectively.

A key challenge for businesses looking to adopt the model is regulation. The country’s blue-collar workforce is highly regulated, and different working models are better suited for white-collar workers.

Abigail Butcher, the associate in the Employment Law practice at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, noted that South Africa has standing laws and negotiated positions around working hours, which complicate any formal shift in scheduling.

She pointed to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) which regulates the working hours of employees who earn under the ministerial threshold of R224,080.30, and certain sectors which are regulated by a sectoral determination.

Companies can also enter into collective agreements with trade unions that regulate working hours, she said.

“In light of the above, it is clear that conditions of employment such as working hours are highly regulated by labour legislation, and in order for South Africa to implement a four-day work week, this legislation would effectively need to be amended,” she said.

Where things are less complicated, are for employees who earn above the R224,000 threshold.

The working hours of employees earning above the threshold are not regulated by the BCEA. These ‘white collar’ employees are likely to work in an office environment and have flexibility when it comes to their schedules, Butcher said.

“With the advent of Covid-19 and hybrid working environments, productivity and employee wellness will be the determining factors as to whether a four-day work week is implemented.”

Read: 4-day work week for employers in South Africa

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