The Chamber of Deputies recently assembled to pass a new labour bill to replace its outdated predecessor of 2001. Among other laws was the decision to raise working hours from 40 to 45 hours per week.
This announcement came just days after Labour Day celebrations held across the country. However, the matter raises a number of questions regarding the consequences and effectiveness of such a reform.
The first issue to address is that of the bill’s effectiveness – will it achieve what it has set out to achieve?
The idea behind this policy is that it will increase productivity among the workforce, and the theory is simple: more time spent at work, more output. However, there is much evidence to suggest that this may not be the case. What is more, it could do more harm than good.
The world is slowly slipping into a ‘long-hours culture’, as employers demand more from their employees at every turn. Unlike what many had thought, the widespread distribution of computers did not liberate workers and bestow upon them hours of free time a day: instead, it simply increased the expected level of output per worker, forcing them to work even more than previously.
In this respect, the new decision by the government seems to fit the trend. However, numerous studies have shown that working long hours can be detrimental to productivity.
The Institute for Employment Studies (IES), for instance, highlighted several negative effects of longer hours both on the individual and the organization in question.
Firstly, it demonstrated how workers were physically affected through increased illness and stress, leading them to take more sick leave.
It found that workers generally had lower morale, which had an impact on their motivation to work and, thus, their level of output.
Lastly, the study related longer hours to higher turnover rates, an impact which takes up both time and resources. So although the theory is relatively simple, it is by no means a given that this increase to a 45-hour week will actually result in an increase in productivity.
Furthermore, we have not even begun to discuss the social implications of the new bill, which could arguably be more severe. An increase in working hours will certainly affect the crucial balance between work and the home-life.
It is important to take into consideration not only the increased absence from the home, but also the raised levels of stress which would come with the extra work. This combination could well put pressure on workers’ personal lives and reduce the amount of time spent with the family.
For Eric Manzi, Secretary General of the trade union CESTRAR, the new labour bill presents a few serious concerns. Although not “fundamentally against the increase to a 45-hour week”, his organisation is worried that workers will suffer as a result of it.
He voiced concerns that there does not seem to be any real benefit for the worker, and stressed the need for any additional revenue to be returned to the working population in the form of increased average wages.
However, the effectiveness of the increase will ultimately depend on how well it is enforced and regulated. The difficulty arises from the fact that one clause in the bill allows for working hours to be decided upon negotiation between the employer and employee.
This condition could potentially damage the actual impact of the bill. The government has taken a hard line on the issue, stating that a hefty fine will be levied on those who abuse the law, but it will need to be closely regulated if the bill is to have any chance of success.
So while on the outside this bill may seem fairly innocuous, there are arguments on either side of the issue. There can be no doubt that it follows a worldwide trend of rising working hours, but as we have seen, the belief that this will result in greater productivity and, thus, greater output could be misguided.
When we take into account the negative effects on physical health, morale and the work-life balance, we see that the issue is far more complicated than it may seem at first.
What it really comes down to is getting the most out of the country’s valuable resource – its human capital; but the question the government must now ask itself is – is this labour bill really the way to achieve that end?