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Miyerkules, Abril 2, 2014

Proposal for a 36-hour workweek

For a 36-HOUR WORKWEEK (six-hour working day, 6 days a week), with no loss in pay, to enable the Constitutional provision for "full employment"[1],
Increase the overtime premium to 60%.
Set the maximum allowable overtime work to four hours.

A. Socio-Historical Basis

1. The reduction of working hours in a day through legislation is one of the landmark victories of the international working class movement. The rationale behind it is to ensure that labor achieve a "work/life balance" while maintaining their productivity as our "primary social economic force"[2].

It also ensures the "equality of employment opportunities for all"[3], even with the lessening demand for labor due to the continuous and inevitable improvements to machinery and equipment, by reducing the workload of overworked employees in order to provide jobs for the unemployed and underemployed.

2. Upon entry at the factory gates and company premises, workers surrender their freedom and choice to their employers. They are bound by contract to perform their tasks. Labor becomes a mere appendage to capitalist production and company procedures.

When can workers exercise full control over their actions? Outside the company premises. If workers are forced to go on overtime, i.e., they willingly do so by choice in order to augment their meager income, they are reducing time to be spent as free and empowered human beings.

To demonstrate the concept of "work/life balance": if workers toil for twelve (12) hours every day and sleep eight (8) hours to rest and recuperate, they only have four (4) hours per day to freely and willfully use to enjoy life, to pursue their dreams, to enjoy quality time with their family or to contribute to society.

With the development of machines and other tools for the production and distribution of necessities, the historical direction of the working-day should be its gradual reduction in order to unleash the potential of workers and of humanity, in general.

3. Before government regulation to the working-day at the height of the Industrial Revolution, the regular daily working hours ranged from 12 to 16 hours a day. The heavy toil soon took its toll on workers' health, with death and disability becoming a common occurrence at workplaces.

Governments in Europe imposed a fixed standard to the working-day - conceding not out of pity nor agreement to the demands of the labor movement but more so in recognition to dwindling productivity brought by longer working hours. After all, the repository of labor-power, which the worker sells in exchange for wages, is no other than the human body. Just like the accelerated use of a machine, to wear down workers in long work-shifts simply means to hasten the depreciation of this dear commodity that the employers buy to consume in the production process.

One of the first labor standards to the working day was the Factory Act of 1847 (also known as the Ten Hour Act), which was imposed on women and child labor[4]. French workers attained the 12-hour day during the 1848 Europe-wide democratic revolutions.

But it was not a communist radical but a factory owner and one of founders of the cooperative movement who formulated the goal of eight-hour day in 1810. Robert Owen coined the slogan: "Eight hours labor, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest". The demand soon launched a global movement for the eight-hour day, whose history is intertwined with the celebration of Labor Day during May First.

It took a more than a century of struggles before the "8-hour working day" became an universally-recognized labor standard. In 1919, the general standard for 48 regular hours of work per week with a maximum of eight hours per day was set for workers in industry by the International Labor Organization (ILO)[5]. In 1930, the same standard was set for workers in commerce and offices[6]. It took two decades more before these agreements were ratified by almost all members in the community of nations. In the 1945 ILO convention, the forty-hour week was ratified by 15 countries (Philippines, not included)[7].

4. In the Philippines, the "Eight-Hour Law" was approved in 1939 through Commonwealth Act 444, almost four decades after it was campaign by the country's first union - the Union Obrera Democratica (UOD) in 1902.

Existing laws on normal hours of work per day is at eight hours, in accordance with the "eight-hour working day"[8]. The Labor Code is not explicit on the normal workweek. It, however, sets a rest period of twenty-four (24 hours) every six (6) consecutive working days[9].

Hence, it could be deduced that the legally-implied normal workweek in the country is at 48 hours (8 hours x 6 days). The Philippine standard for a 48-hour workweek is pre-war relic. It is terribly outdated, as compared to[10]:

a) France, 35-hour week (February 2000);
b) China, 40-hour week (1995);
c) South Korea, 40-hour 5-day work-week (covered all workers in July 2011);
d) Australia, 38-hour week;
e) Finland and Japan, 8 hours per day, 40-hour week;
f) Singapore, 8 hours per day, 44 hours a week;
g) Taiwan, 8 hours a day, 42 hour-week and,
h) United States, 40-hour week.

In other countries, limitations to maximum allowable overtime work are set, ranging from 4 hours per day (Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan) to 220 hours per year or 18 1/3 hours per month (France)[11]. Sadly, because the Philippines has no legislation to limit overtime work, 16-hour to 24-hour work-shifts are prevalent among workers in transport and manufacturing sectors.

With regards to overtime pay, the Labor Code sets an additional pay of 25% for work in excess of the 8-hour working day. This rate is lagging behind the 50% overtime premium in most countries[12].

B. Economic Basis

1. The argument for a reduced workweek is not only based on socio-historical facts and trends but on macro-economic data from government statistical agencies regarding underemployment, hours worked per week and unemployment.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Employment Statistics of the Department of Labor and Employment (BLES-DOLE), there was a yearly average of 37.192 million, 37.6 million, and 37.917 million employed persons from 2011 to 2013[13].

Out of the employed, a total of 13.448 million (2011), 13.925 million (2012) and 13.215 million (2013) worked less than 40 hours/week. As per DOLE and ILO categories, they are considered as visibly underemployed and involved in part-time employment. This figure translates to 34.85% to 37.03% of total employed persons who are underworked. Meaning, roughly four out of ten employed workers do not have enough work.

In contrast, there was a yearly average of 8.081 million and 8.461 million workers who worked more than 49 hours a week in 2011 and 2012, respectively, which translates to 21.72% and 22.50% of the total employed who are overworked[14]. Almost three out of ten employed workers are overworked. But while forced overtime is illegal, workers "choose" to go on overtime to augment their meager income through an added 25% premium for work performed in excess of eight hours.

The undeniable fact that the above-mentioned data shows is that the underemployed mass are wasted by lack of employment while the fully-employed few are overworked.

2. Reducing the workweek to 36 hours would generate gainful employment. To illustrate, a company that employs 1,200 workers in three 8-hour work-shifts per day would shift to four 6-hour shifts; readily employing 400 more workers from the ranks of the unemployed and underemployed.

On a macro-level, the BLES-DOLE data shows that there are 24.28 million workers who worked more than 40 hours a week in 2013[15].

If we reduce the workweek to 36 hours with a maximum allowable overtime work of four fours – and assuming that all gainfully employed workers go on overtime – we would still have 24.28 million jobs available for the underemployed and unemployed.

In a single stroke, we have provided a legal solution to unemployment as we have an average of 2.826 million unemployed workers in 2012[16], with more jobs to spare for the underemployed. With the creation of more employment opportunities, the unemployed and underemployed would be enticed to seek training for qualify for jobs. #

[1] 1987 Philippine Constitution, Article 13, Section 3
[2] Ibid, Article 2, Section 17
[3] Ibid, Article 13, Section 3
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Factories_Act_1847
[5] International Labor Organization (ILO), Hours of Hour (Industry) Convention, 1919 (No.1)
[6] ILO Hours of Work (Commerce and Offices) Convention, 1930, (No. 30)
[7] ILO Forty-Hour Week Convention, 1935 (No. 47)
[8] Article 83, Labor Code of the Philippines
[9] Article 91, ibid
[10] Fact Sheet on Standard Working Hours in Selected Places, Hong Kong Legislative Council Secretariat
[11] Ibid
[12] Ibid
[13] BLES-DOLE Labor Force Survey, Employed Persons by Number of Hours Worked Per Week: 2011 - 2013
[14] Ibid
[15] Ibid
[16] BLES-DOLE Labor Force Survey, Unemployed Persons and Unemployment Rate: 1987 - 2012

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