Colleges are open to piloting a four-day week after the pandemic proved employees can be ‘highly productive’ at home, according to union chiefs.
Unison said further education institutions expressed an interest in running a trial four-day week – and said employers are less scared of the idea following lockdown.
It would see an increase in the length of the working day, with pro-rata arrangements for part-time staff.
Colleges Scotland Employers’ Association confirmed they are “receptive to exploring the possibility” of a trial.
It is hoped the shorter week would lead to a boost in productivity and wellbeing.
John Gallacher, head of bargaining at Unison Scotland, said talks had a long way to go.
He said: “The initial response from Scottish colleges on proposals for a four-day week for their support staff was not completely negative.
“College employers have also expressed an interest in the proposals in terms of running a four-day week pilot, perhaps at an individual college in Scotland.
“Unison is, in partnership with Unite and GMB, pursuing negotiations to secure a four-day week for support staff at further education colleges and we are looking for a positive outcome to the negotiations.
“We are looking for the introduction of such a change with no loss of earnings for staff. It means there should be no cost implications for colleges.
“It would mean the length of the working day, or of certain working days in the week, increasing.
“But what I’m hoping is that the experience of the pandemic – which has shown that employees can be highly productive and innovative at home – will have made college employers less scared of the idea of a four-day week.
“I think there’s a lot more trust in the idea that support staff will fulfil their contractual obligations at home, in terms of hours, without supervision, thus making the notion of a four-day week feasible.”
Alex Linkston, chair of the Colleges Scotland Employers’ Association, said: “Following a proposal from the support staff trade unions we’re receptive to exploring the possibility of piloting a four-day week.
“Colleges are great places to work – many roles already offer flexible and hybrid working, and support staff have played a huge role in a safe return to learning for students across the country.
“College staff have done great work to get students through the pandemic and have adapted really well to different circumstances and ways of working.
“We’re committed to making colleges an even better place to work, and we’re pleased to engage with our trade union colleagues in all parts of this discussion.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The pandemic has served to intensify interest in and support for more flexible working practices, which could include a shift to a four-day – or shorter – working week.
“Reductions in the working week might help sustain more and better jobs, and enhance wellbeing.
“We are in the early stages of designing a £10m pilot that will help companies explore the benefits and costs of moving to a four-day working week.
“The pilot will allow us to develop a better understanding of the implications of a broader shift to a shorter working week across the economy.”