This week, Jacinda Ardern became the most popular prime minister in New Zealand’s history. In the first poll conducted after the country’s strict four-week lockdown, Ardern’s approval rating was up to nearly 60 per cent, and her party, Labour, was at 56.5 per cent. That’s serious political capital and PM Ardern has used it to float an idea for labour reform that others could learn from — a four-day week.
Given the number of people working from home, and the slowdown in consumption caused by COVID-19, a four-day week could potentially reduce the burden on families as well as help the economy. Flexible work hours would mean that people have more time to spend on leisure, fewer overheads for employers and generally less stress during trying times.Unlike many other countries facing distress and lockdowns, New Zealand seems to be open to the idea that producers are also consumers, and their health and well-being — mental and physical — will be the ultimate driver of the economy.
Ardern’s popularity, both in her country and beyond, has been based on what she represents. She became the first woman leader in history to give birth in office and “bring her baby to work” — in her case, the parliament. After the Christchurch attacks, she made sure to speak to minorities, reassuring them that the government stood with them. The manner in which she has handled the COVID crisis has now added to her appeal: She imposed the lockdown early, New Zealand has just had 21 deaths from the virus, and the number of new cases is now so small as to be negligible. Throughout the crisis, she has been speaking to her people and the press, answering questions — her leadership style standing in stark contrast to other democracies, where demagoguery seems to be standing in for empathy.