07/02/2007

Working Time Around The World - One in five workers worldwide are putting in "excessive" hours

New ILO study spotlights working time in over 50 countries.
Nearly a century after adopting its first international standard on working
time, a new study by the International Labour Office estimates that one in five
workers around the world - or over 600 million persons - are still working more
than 48 hours a week, often merely to make ends meet.

The new study, Working Time Around the World: Trends in working hours, laws and
policies in a global comparative perspective says an estimated 22 per cent of
the global workforce, or 614.2 million workers, are working "excessively" long
hours.

Shorter hours, the report says, can have positive consequences including
benefits to workers' health and family lives, reduced accidents at the
workplace, as well as greater productivity and equality between the sexes. At
the same time, the study says a considerable number of short-hours workers in
developing and transition countries may be underemployed, and thus more likely
to fall into poverty.

"The good news is that progress has been made in regulating normal working
hours in developing and transition countries, but overall the findings of this
study are definitely worrying, especially the prevalence of excessively long
hours", said Jon C. Messenger, Senior Research Officer for the ILO's Conditions
of Work and Employment Programme and a co-author of the study.

The study spotlights working time in over 50 countries, and for the first time
explores the implications for working time policies in developing and
transition countries. For the most part, it shows that the distribution of
working hours in developing and transition countries to be highly diverse, with
some individuals working very long hours, and others working short hours.

Another element of concern is what the report calls a clear "gender gap" in
working time. The study says men tend to work longer average hours than women
worldwide, with women working shorter hours in almost every country studied.
Moreover, men are more likely to work long hours than women, while women are
far more likely to work short hours (less than 35 per week) than men. The
report concludes that this is likely due to their bearing the primary
responsibility for "unpaid" work in households and providing care for family
members, not only children but also the elderly and individuals suffering from
diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

Among married couples with children, the report says, men's paid working hours
tend to increase while women's paid working hours decrease. For example, in
Hungary the presence of children in the family resulted in men working 13 to 19
per cent longer than women, and this increased with more children in the
family. In Malaysia, an estimated 23 per cent of women stopped paid work
altogether because of childcare reasons.

"Tertiarization"- that is, the expanding service sector - and informal
employment, two of the hallmarks of today's global economy, are also major
sources of longer working hours. Working hours in the services sector and its
subsectors tend to be the most varied, and these hours are particularly long in
industries such as wholesale and retail trade, hotels and restaurants, and
transport, storage and communications, all of which also commonly involve shift
work and "unsocial" hours. For instance, in Mexico, a higher proportion of
workers spend more than 48 hours per week on the job in the wholesale and
retail trade than any other industry. And the security industry, which has
among the longest legal hours of any industry, working hours in countries such
as Jamaica have been estimated at 72 hours per week.

The study says that in the informal economy, which provides at least half of
total employment in all regions of the developing world, with about
three-fifths of it self-employment, some 30 per cent or more of all
self-employed men work more than 49 hours a week. Meanwhile, women in
developing and transition economies are resorting to informal self-employment
to realize reduced hours as means to reconcile their work and family
responsibilities. With the exception of Thailand, at least one-quarter of all
self-employed women is working less than 35 hours per week in the developing
countries studied, the report says, and the figure is approximately one-half or
more of all self-employed women in half of these countries.

In the manufacturing sector, the report says, average working hours in
manufacturing across the world largely ranges between 35 to 45 hours per week,
but are significantly longer in a number of developing countries, including
Costa Rica, Peru, the Philippines, Thailand and Turkey. The study also shows
both younger and retirement-age workers work slightly shorter hours than
prime-age workers, often reflecting the insufficient employment opportunities
for these two groups.

The study also provides a number of suggested policy points designed to advance
decent work in the area of working time. Some of these policy suggestions
include:


  • reducing long working hours to lessen the risk of occupational injuries and
    illnesses, and their associated costs to workers, employers, and society as a
    whole;

  • adopting family-friendly working time measures adapted to national
    circumstances, such as flexi-time, emergency family leave, and part-time work;

  • promoting the development of high quality part-time work, shaped by local
    institutions and traditions and informed by the principles and measures found
    in the ILO's Part-Time Work Convention, 1994 (No. 175), which can help promote
    gender equality;

  • adopting reasonable statutory hours limits that can contribute towards
    enhancing firms' productivity, and measures to assist enterprises to improve
    their productivity, in order to help break the "vicious cycle" of long working
    hours and low pay;

  • considering measures that allow workers to devote more time to their families
    and to have more influence over their work schedules, in order to make formal
    economy jobs a possibility for more women.

More information


AplusA-online.de - Source: International Labour Office (ILO)