WHILE much of the western world has lurched to the right politically in the last year or so, Finland has bucked the trend by electing a progressive coalition of left-wing and green parties, backed up by some centrists. This group is led by a woman, Sanna Marin, who also happens to be the world’s youngest serving leader. Aged just 34 – Ms Marin was born in 1985 the year of Live Aid and the first Nintendo game console – she is hoping to bring some fresh new ideas to a Finnish society usually amenable to social change. One of these, which other countries in Europe will monitor with interest, is the introduction of the four-day working week. A record number of Finns belong to trade unions, 91% against an EU average of about 60%, and probably unsurprisingly the unions back the move for their members.
Research has shown that productivity increases significantly with a four day week, immediately cancelling out some of the costs to business of any change. Other benefits are less tangible and include a happier workforce, less movement between jobs plus lower sickness and absenteeism rates. The Labour party in the UK had similar moves in its last (unsuccessful) manifesto while France, Italy and Austria are all said to be considering the change, which will be enshrined in law soon in Finland if young Ms Marin has her way.