The Journal Gazette
Friday, January 10, 2020 4:52 pm

NOT REAL NEWS: Finland is not launching 4-day work week

JARI TANNER | Associated Press

HELSINKI -- The Finnish government has squelched a story spreading in international media about the Nordic country's plans to reduce the average work time for full-time employees to 24 hours a week, or four six-hour days.

Newspapers and news sites in Britain, the United States, India, Pakistan, Russia and Australia were among the outlets that credited Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin as the person responsible for the shorter-work-week plan.

But government spokeswoman Paivi Anttikoski said Marin floated the idea of Finland someday adopting either a four-day work week or six-hour work days -- not both -- months before the 34-year-old became the world's youngest head of government in December.

Marin "envisioned the idea briefly in a panel discussion last August while she was the minister of transport, and there hasn't been any recent activity" to push the initiative forward, Anttikoski said.

Neither the agenda of the five-party coalition government Marin leads nor the meeting plans of her Cabinet mention a work-hour proposal, the spokeswoman said.

The inaccurate reports are believed to have arisen from a Jan. 2 article published online by New Europe, a Brussels newspaper that mostly covers European Union affairs. New Europe's story said Marin raised the issue of a six-hours a day, four-day work week in August but hadn't said more about it since becoming prime minister.

Zoi Didili, the reporter who filed the story, told the Associated Press the translation from original Finnish news sources she relied on had some details wrong, like wrongly claiming that Marin suggested both a four-hour work week and six-hour work day.

New Europe's story has been revised with a correction, and the publication has been in touch with Marin's office, Didili said.

"The basis of the story was that we wanted to see whether the Finnish prime minister would uphold her earlier views. This time we fell into the trap of not cross-checking this information properly," Didili said.

"We've been very alerted to the fact that so many news outlets reported the story without checking it from original sources, " she added.

Marin was a vice chairwoman of Finland's ruling Social Democratic Party and minister for transport and communications in the Cabinet of then-Prime Minister Antti Rinne when the Social Democrats held an Aug. 17 conference in the port town of Turku to mark the party's 120th anniversary.

As in other Nordic countries, the Social Democratic movement played an important role in Finland's industrial history, particularly on seeking to protect employees' rights and setting work hours.

During a panel discussion, Marin presented various “utopias” she hoped to see became a reality for the country of 5.5 million people. One was that workers would one day either have four-day work weeks or put in a daily maximum of six hours at their jobs.

"Is the eight-hour working day the definite truth? I think people deserve to spend more time with their families and their loved ones, hobbies and culture activities. This could be the next step for us in the work life," Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat quoted Marin as saying.

A few days later, Marin attempted to back up her position on Twitter, saying that past reductions in work hours had been beneficial for employees.

"We must strive towards increasing work productivity also in the future and make sure that the beneficiary of this is the common person. Discussion over reducing working hours should be and must be allowed," Marin tweeted.

"A four-day working week or a six-hour working day with a sufficient pay may be utopia today, but it may become reality in the future," Marin said.

Finland has taken bold steps before in the areas of education and labor.

In 2017, the center-right government of then-Prime Minister Juha Sipila launched a two-year trial program that paid randomly chosen unemployed citizens a basic income of $624 a month with no questions asked.

The trial was designed to cut government bureaucracy and boost employment. A 2019 assessment of the program concluded it contributed to the well-being of the participants but didn't increase employment.

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