What a woefully romanticised image of history.
I never said their lives were prettier or easier...but work was different. Yes they worked 6 days per week. Yes it was difficult work. But...in many societies about half the year were holidays (Christian holy days, in Roman times the plethora of holidays and games, etc.) during which most people did not work. I know many people who live in agrarian areas or hail from there and still make a point of doing absolutely no work on St.-this-day and St.-that's-day (many do it out of superstition). Agrarian work also tends to be seasonal, leaving a lot of work to be done in certain times of the year and little at other times. Plus, work was generally not sequestered from the rest of one's life as it became in industrial times. Which makes it hard to categorise. One could go about categorising all the different things they did as work, however, today, lots of what we'd call work for them is not counted as work for us; if I grow my vegetables in my garden rather than buying them in the supermarket accross the street, that doesn't count as work as it is not payed and I do it in my free time. For a 17th century farmer, you'd probably count the tending of those vegetables as work.
In that time, we really ought to cut down commuting time. For most people, that time is completely wasted. Fortunately, cutting commuting has been a very real and very recent phenomenon, thanks to technological advances.
Commuting time would not have been such a problem (at least not in North America) if proper urban planning had been been applied. Overzoning, suburbia, and inadequate public transit are all things which have contributed to long commutes. We don't need to rely completely on technological advances (although ultrafast public transit trains for example would be real nice!) and probably shouldn't, because such solutions are likely to be energy-intensive...cutting commuting is a no brainer: make people live closer to their work! Which means, mix business and residential zones and allow for work within one's community, in walking distance. This is not so much as a problem in Europe as it is in North America.
That and cutting sleep. People sleep too much. What's the point of complaining about working 8 hours a day if one then sleeps for just as long? I for one sleep four hours a day, and suffer no ill consequences, except being a megalomaniac.
I do think you're just taking the p*ss. Otherwise you're insane.
Four hours per day!? Get yourself some help! Caffeine is bad for you.
Using legislation to bring that about is madness, and would create a labour shortage, as the UK has now, even if phased in over a period of many years Making it harder for people to earn a living is never the answer to anything (except criminals).
I'm not a fan of legislation - I just don't see any other way it can be done. A reduction in hours also needs to be applied consistently (phasing in over many years is not so good - change should be somewhat more abrupt). Society is synched to the 5 day week so in a 4 day week or double-shifting environment it should be synched to that. That is the only way everyone benefits. If it is done partially, the people/companies to change first have to the most to lose why the ones which change last have the most to gain - therefore no one wants to go first, so nothing happens.
Now I don't know whether the UK has a labour shortage - I think over here there's a surplus. In any case as long as there are people willing to work that can't find work (in the broadest of sense; not "I'm a plumber and can't find plumbing work" type of thing) I can't see there being a labour shortage. As for making it harder for people to make a living, I fail to see how that applies: lowering work hours should increase employment. Unemployment puts pressure on the employed giving employees more leverage on the other hand.