Legal working hours and real working hours are different!
An interesting study (of more than 50 countries) carried out by The International Labor Organization (ILO, a United Nations agency) says that 22 percent of the total workforce surveyed (614.2 million people) worked more than 48 hours a week and that too in countries where the legal work-week was often far shorter – ranging from 35-48 hours. These are the findings of the report:
Developed countries with the highest percentage of workers putting in more than 48-hours weekly:
- Japan: 39.3 percent
- United Kingdom: 25.7 percent
- Israel: 25.5 percent
- New Zealand: 23.6 percent
- Australia: 20.4 percent
- Switzerland: 19.2 percent
- United States: 18.1 percent
Developing nations with the highest percentage of workers putting in more than 48 hours weekly:
- Indonesia: 51.2 percent
- Peru: 50.9 percent (48 hours is the legal work week)
- Republic of Korea: 49.5 percent
- Thailand: 46.7 percent (48 hours is the legal work week)
- Pakistan: 44.4 percent (48 hours is the legal work week)
- Ethiopia: 40 percent (48 hours is the legal work week)
- Macao: 39.1 percent
There were no figures for India but if I had to guess I would say that they would indicate that more than 50 percent of Indians work more than 48 hours a week (I am not referring to the agriculture sector). I have written about this here, and have based it on my own observations.
The reasons as to why people work longer than the hours stipulated are varied and complex and I am not getting into that here. But if one has to sum up it would be because employers exploit workers and the workers themselves do over-time to supplement their income as they do not always get a decent wage by working their normal hours. This happens mostly in the unorganised sector (In India). At higher levels, many see working extra hours as a way to get ahead in the organisation.
I found some more interesting statistics in the April issue of the Economist. They talk of the average work week in the OECD countries (actual working hours, not legal working hours). These are just average working hours of the population.
On an average, the South Koreans work almost seven hours longer than workers in other OECD countries. The Americans also work longer hours (on an average) than those in western Europe. Well, from this chart and the ILO one, it does seem that poorer nations tend to work harder. Even in Europe, workers in Eastern Europe who work longer hours than those in Western Europe.
Another chart (2007 figures) which discusses the European work week takes into account the work week of full-time workers only (the Economist figures take into account working hours of both part-time and full-time workers). The picture tends to change as is evident in the chart below. It’s not Netherlands which has the shortest work week, but Italy and Spain!
Legal work week and real work week varies
What I find very interesting is that the legal limit is simply an official figure not taken seriously by either employers or workers. And this happens in developed countries as well, like France and Belgium, although they are exceptions rather than the rule. In India we know that the legal limit for working hours is not followed (except in government organisations and in a limited way in the organised sector). The excessive working hours in France is significant as now their legal weekly working hours have been reduced to 35 hours!
Britain has a flexible legal limit of 48 hours as it can be legally extended by an agreement with employees. (The rest of the EU is not happy with this arrangement of Britain’s.)
Legal work week in India
In India official weekly working hours are 48 hours per week. Which as I mentioned earlier is mostly followed by government employees and to some extent in the organised sector.
However, ASSOCHAM, a major Indian Industry body has very recently suggested an increase of weekly working hours from existing 48 to 60. I wonder whether this has any meaning considering that those who don’t want to follow the working week, don’t follow it, specially in developing countries.
As the ILO points out:
…generally, working time laws and policies often have limited influence on actual working hours in developing economies, especially in terms of maximum weekly hours, overtime payments, exceptions and exemptions, and informal employment.”
The ILO considers anyone working beyond 48 hours a week as working “excessively” but for many of us in a developing country working 50-60 hours a week is a fact of life and difficult to avoid, whether one is a manager or a worker. I wonder if ASSOCHAM’s suggestion is simply a way to formalise the overtime hours put in by workers.