Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda has released a research paper pushing the approval of his twin proposals in Congress that seek to reduce work hours in both government and private sectors from 40 to 35 hours a week, “to improve the quality of life, productivity and sustainable consumption in the country.”
Titled “Improving Quality of Life, Productivity and Sustainable Consumption by Reducing Hours at Work,” the paper presents trends in global labor markets and work hours as compared to the Philippine situation.
The paper supports House Bills 9183 and 9184, which Salceda earlier filled in Congress, proposing the reduction of weekly work hours in both private and public sectors.
The measures are expected to pave the way for the country to keep up with the global trend of shorter working hours brought about by technological advances and enable workers to enjoy more abundant and meaningful leisure time.
“With government planning for heavily investing in infrastructure development to improve connectivity across the country, including in Metro Manila where traffic chaos is a daily reality, the State must adapt its labor policies to help workers develop a work-life balance,” he said.
The average working hours of employees in the Philippines have been unchanged for decades, the solon noted.
The global trend, however, shows a reduction in weekly work hours across the decades, Salceda said. From the 1980s to the end of the last millennium, a number of European countries, such as the Netherlands in the 1980s and France in recent years, have shortened work weeks as a policy tool for lowering unemployment.
Thus, he said some of the most globally productive economies like Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany have work weeks with far fewer hours than the average work hours in the Philippines. “This shows that it is possible to reduce working hours without weakening their economies,” and that “increasing productivity does not merely rely on the number of hours put in, but also on the overall workers’ welfare aside from investments in emerging technologies,” he pointed out.
Salceda cited a 2018 global survey where the Philippines placed second to Greece among 145 countries in terms of “most stressful work environment.” It scored 58%, well above the global average of 35%. To address anticipated changes in the labor market, and the increasing strain from commuting, Salceda said it is crucial that legislation has to be formulated to transition to a shorter work week without reduction in pay.
The transition, he suggested, may be done in phases, with government adopting the reduced hours in the first two years, followed by large corporations in the third year. Micro-small-and medium-enterprises can be given the option to voluntarily reduce working hours per week. In all cases, firms with 5-day work week regimes may also compress the work week to four days with work not exceeding 9 hours per day.
In 1930 or some 90 years ago, influential economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that technological progress would lead to shorter work weeks and abundant leisure time; he even suggested that by 2030, the normal workweek would be around 15-hours.
Salceda said that the world is way far yet from the predicted scenario, but some progressive countries like New Zealand, Sweden and Germany, have successfully experimented with shorter work weeks, based on studies showing that “spending less time at work make employees more focused, procrastinate less and have healthier and happier lives outside of work, resulting in happier, healthier and more motivated employees.”
The lawmaker said this is the reason why some think tanks “advocate for reducing the normal working week to address a range of linked problems on sustainable development such as unemployment, overwork, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, over-consumption, high carbon emissions, and lack of time to live sustainably, to care for each other, and simply to enjoy life.”
In his paper, Salceda quoted the report of Autonomy (2019), in particular, with various “case studies which demonstrate that shorter work weeks (and greater worker control over working time) can mean fewer sick absences, fewer in-work accidents and higher motivation on the job.”
The nature of future jobs, he said, are likely to change and displace current jobs that involve a lot of repetitive and codifiable tasks. Government should thus prepare the landscape for work-sharing, and alternative work patterns such as telecommuting, and working less than the current eight hours-a-day norm.
In the Philippines, Salceda said a “shorter work week is undoubtedly the answer to problems resulting from time poverty that people face, commuting to work, networking and checking emails that are increasingly becoming a regular aspect of our lives,” which impose further burden on the lack of time for housework that women, more than men, have to take on when they get home.