The Union Government is finalising new labour codes which will allow employers the flexibility to choose between a four-day and a five-day work a week based on the requirement of the sector. To be implemented soon, it will set the ceiling on no more than 48 hours of work a week but would mean longer working hours.
Ministry of Labour and Employment Secretary Apurva Chandra on Monday said, "Companies will have to give three days' of paid leaves and 12 hours of work per day to their employees with the consent of the workers. We are not forcing employees or employers. It gives flexibility. It's an enabling provision in sync with the changing work culture."
Employers will no longer have to seek government approval to switch between the four and five-day work a week model. Under the draft rules of the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020, the employees will also be entitled to free medical check-ups by the Employees' State Insurance Corporation (ESIC).
The shortened workweek is, however, by no means an experiment of the 21st century. The 40-hour, five-day work a week scheme goes as far back as the post-war decades when American industrialist Henry Ford discovered that reduced total working time of 40 hours in five days resulted in increased productivity of his workers. During the Great Depression around the same time, there was huge interest in even a 30-hour week intended to "share" the work of unemployed labourers.
Some of the more recent examples of a successful four-day work week implementation include Microsoft's 'Work Life Choice Challenge 2019 Summer' and Germany's 2009 short-time working program. The tech giant's experiment in Japan with a reduction in the workweek by one day resulted in a 40% surge in productivity.
Acknowledging the concerns triggered by the proposal of longer (12-hour) shifts, Chandra said the ministry has tried to provide flexibility to the firms with respect to the workdays.
Most states are finalising their draft rules on labour codes, he said. "Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh are likely to do it anytime soon. However, the Centre will not wait for all the states to notify their Rules," he added.