Will the 4-day work week work for Filipinos?

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The clamor for a four-day work week reemerged after it was suggested that it could solve traffic congestion in Metro Manila. Photo by KITKAT PAJARO

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — On Aug. 2017, the House of Representatives approved the four-day work week “to promote business competitiveness, work efficiency, and labor productivity.” This is only an option that companies can practice in addition to the five-day or six-day work week.

Here are some provisions of the bill:

1. The Labor Code states that employees should work for 40 to 48 hours a week, and with the compressed work week, employees are required to work up to 12 hours a day.

2. The bill mandates companies to provide overtime pay if work rendered is more than 48 hours a week.

3. Employees have the right to claim three days off a week.

Recently, this information resurfaced on social media, after several reports suggesting that a four-day work week can solve traffic congestion in Metro Manila. Most Facebook users seem to be supportive of this bill, saying that workers can be more productive and that this will encourage work-life balance among employees.

However, there are already workers groups who disapprove of the bill even before it is passed. As the four-day work week will require more working hours within a day, labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno said in 2014 that “increasing the number of working hours … will negatively affect the workers’ health and violate workers’ rights.” The group also said that workers who are paid on a daily basis or those who are under a ‘no work, no pay’ policy would be at a loss.

There is yet to be a concrete result showing how a four-day work week is indeed better for the Philippines. But this practice has been tested in other countries.

In New Zealand, a firm called Perpetual Guardian trialled this scheme while paying the employees the same salaries that it would for a five-day work week. From a 40 hour-week to a 32-hour one, the practice showed that “staff were more creative, their attendance was better, they were on time, and they didn’t leave early or take long breaks.”

The founder, Andrew Barnes, explained that the research displayed how when companies hire staff, the contract should be negotiated and measured in terms of tasks to be performed rather than hours in the office. “A contract should be about an agreed level of productivity,” he said in an interview. “If you deliver that in less time, why should I cut your pay?”

In a country like the Philippines, where over 22 million live below the poverty line and where inflation rate is at a nine-year high of 6.4 percent, the four-day work week may not be the best approach to helping all Filipinos.

In the US, retail juggernaut Amazon also tested lesser number of work hours in 2016 to a select number of employees, with a slightly different approach than Perpetual Guardian. While the New Zealand firm cut down hours to 32, Amazon offered a 30-hour work week. The Amazon employees would receive the same benefits as their 40-hour work weeks but they would only be getting 75 percent of their regular pay. The results of the trial have not been released.

Although it is also of note that Amazon has received flack for abuses perpetrated on workers, such as punishing employees for taking breaks, quelling the workers’ rights to unionize, and unjust wages for the work carried out, among others.

Sweden, a country already known to provide flexible work schedules to employees, has also seen companies experiment on shorter work days. Swedish nursing home Svartedalens applied a 30-hour work week in 2016, and results showed that “the program in its first year had sharply reduced absenteeism, and improved productivity and worker health.” A startup in Stockholm called Brath, which had 20 employees, also practiced a six-hour workday, and the founder said that this doubled the company’s profits due to a spike in the employees’ productivity.

Meanwhile, France has followed an identical scheme in 2000 with its 35-hour work week, but companies rallied that it amplified hiring costs while reducing their business competitiveness.

Financial Times columnist Simon Kuper cites how shorter working schemes can become common practice if an economy keeps growing. However, Kuper says that this type of practice “won’t help poorest-paid workers who can’t afford to work less.” And in a country like the Philippines, where over 22 million live below the poverty line and where inflation rate is at a nine-year high of 6.4 percent, the four-day work week may not be the best approach to helping all Filipinos.

Essentially, the bill is only an option and if companies can ensure and prove that a four-day work week is best for both the company and their employees, then that’s on them to decide. And since this renewed interest for the four-day work week was sparked because of the unresolved traffic problem in Metro Manila, perhaps, the government should know what problem to solve first.