Youth unemployment is on the rise, not only in the countries such as Spain and Greece -countries that are severely affected by the crisis and the forced austerity measures – but also in the Netherlands, youth unemployment increases daily. In order to solve this problem in the context of the current economic crisis, we should not only consider pushing for economic growth and more jobs, we also need to share the work that already exist. The division of work is a Green solution because it gives people the freedom to shape their life in a way they want to, pushes the emancipation of women and is also moving us towards a sustainable society. We must change the focus of the current capitalistic society, where people are judged on what they wear and what they own, to a society where people are caring for each other and are participating in local and democratic initiatives.
Throughout the past decennia, the modernisation of production processes has lead to a production chain that became capital-intensive and less labour workers needed. More and more sophisticated machines take over the work of people. Of course we will always need people to do certain tasks, the number however is significantly lower. Secondly, the more labour-intensive production has moved to countries were labour is cheaper. Our clothes are made in Bangladesh and our computers in China, where the risks of exploitation are high and control is more complicated to carry out. These two developments have contributed to the lower demands of labourers in Europe.
Another significant development is the fact that in Europe, more and more people are higher educated. Of course, this is great. It is important for the personal development of people to go through education, to learn how to think critically and to get a better understanding of the functioning of society. On the other hand, this development leads to a larger demand for high-educated jobs. And these jobs are not available everywhere, leading to higher educated people accepting jobs that are below their level, eventually leaving the lower educated people out of employment.
In my point of view, the equal division of work is an important solution for solving the rise in unemployment, and especially youth unemployment in the current crisis, but it is also a sustainable solution for a future that requires less and less labourers.
Decreasing working hours means more time to relax and do the things that you like to do, but this means also more time to volunteer, more time to get actively engaged in social activities and more time to take care of others. Long working days have proven to cause stress and illnesses, sometimes so severe they cause permanent health issues. Having more time to enjoy your social life, your family, leisure-activities and nature will increase general health.
Lowering the working hours is beneficiary for the expenses of the state. By lowering the working hours, people become healthier and the state has lower health bills. Secondly, people can spend time on taking care of each other. Young people can spend time on taking care of elders, neighbours or sick friends. The state does not have to pay for these expenses anymore, another positive point in poor economic times. And thirdly, parents have time to take care of their children, instead of paying expensive day care. Instead of working to pay these bills, parents take their own responsibilities, saving money and investing time in raising children.
Another important development when sharing work is that working less improves the position of women on the labour market. Currently, there is a huge gap between the amount of women and men that work full-time and part-time. After years of struggling for equality between all genders, working hours are still divided according to old patriarchal values. In the Netherlands this is very clear: on average, men work 40 hours per week and women work 24 hours per week. Lowering the working hours of full-time jobs to an average of 30 hours per week would be a great push towards equality between women and men. Women and men can both work 30 hours, earn the same income in the situation of a heterosexual couple, and both have equal opportunities in their careers. To add a final point, lowering working hours to an average of 30 hours, both parents have more time to raise their children. The care of children should not be the responsibility of one parent!
Continuing with economic growth and increasing worldwide consumption will eventually go beyond the limits of our planet. We must make a change towards green energy, but we also need to accept that growth has limits. Products must become more sustainable and repairing should not cost just as much as buying a new product. If we produce a little less, produce sustainable products and stop seeing extraordinary consumption in the rich upper class as a role model, we can make sure future generations can still live on this planet.
What about the incomes of the people? Even though working hours will be reduced, I believe that people with an income that is lower than the average salary in that country, should not be cut in their income. However, people who are in the higher salary scales will receive a lower income. This will lead to businesses hiring more people and lower unemployment rates. The factor between the lowest salary and the highest salary within one corporation has grown immense over the past decades, and we must go towards a system where all people earn a decent living, but the leaders do not earn hundreds times more than the cleaners or than the interns.
Finally, to what extent will people be forced to work less, or do we leave this as an individual decision to be made? Yes, there are people enjoying to work more than 40 hours per week, who will not be in favour to reduce working hours. However, I believe everyone must contribute to the equal division of work. New employees will be hired with for example a 30 hours contract. In case you like to do more than that, there are side-activities one could carry out besides working hours. Volunteering in organisations, clubs, participation in local projects, etc. etc.
Of course the proposal of sharing work must be seen in the context of broader approaches to solve the current crisis in Europe. We need a transformation towards green energy, which will also create new jobs. We need to stronger social safety nets for all Europeans and minimum wages, which require more solidarity among Europeans. We need participatory democracy. However, I believe that one of the long-term solutions will be to decrease working hours, because it is not only a method of countering the crisis and unemployment, but it also improves our lives and our world.