March 2000

How about enjoying life?

A recipe for a happier working life is offered by the Finnish Green MP Osmo Soininvaara. In a column in the weekly Suomen Kuvalehti (11 February 2000), Soininvaara writes that the productivity of work could be used not only to increase growth of production but also to add to the amount of free time.

Soininvaara points out that between 1990-1998, working hours in Finland have decreased by 12 per cent. Simultaneously, total production has increased by 15 per cent.

"In other words, almost half of the growth in productivity has resulted in the growth of free time but not in the form of shorter working hours but as unemployment", Soininvaara writes.

"Is the reason for unemployment the fact that those in work are working too much? I don't believe that shortening working hours will reduce unemployment. Unemployment is the result of big differences in skills and small differences in the price of work. Shortening working hours reduces unemployment only a little; mainly it decreases total production. To reduce unemployment, the tax and wage system must be changed in order not to price low-skilled work force out of work."

Soininvaara says that there is no point in making people work harder since there are signs that they find it already difficult to cope.

"We are (on average) already wealthy enough. More wealth would not make us happier; a more leisured pace and increasing free time, on the other hand, might do it."

Soininvaara notes that France is adopting a 35-hour working week. He wonders if the Finns, on their part, could make individual decisions as long as the maximum working time is not exceeded.

"One could sell one's labour as one sells carafe wine. Wages would be rated according to work - and pension according to life-time wages so that to maximise pension one would not need to increase pace of work towards the end. Instead one could take it easier as one grows older. Those who prefer money would work longer days, and those who prefer leisure time would work shorter hours."

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