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Long Working Hours in ASEAN

Seventy years ago, the economist John Maynard Keynes declared his belief
that his grandchildren would be enjoying three hour working days. That of
course has not happened, despite the enormous improvements in workplace
technology and employee productivity. Instead, people around the world
seem to be working harder and longer than ever before. Confined in
internal factories and offices, people become decoupled from the natural
rhythms of the world, perhaps even unaware of the weather or what time it
might be.

This has clear implications for mental and physical health as
workers suffer increasing stress, leading to cardiovascular diseases and
family life suffers. New generations of children grow up with absentee
parents and suffer in turn from lack of positive role models and poorer
socialization skills.

New research from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has provided
evidence that working weeks are not decreasing almost anywhere in the
world. In the ASEAN region, Indonesia has a weekly limit of 40 working
hours; Singapore permits 41-6 hours; Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia,
Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam allow 48 hour working weeks. These
limits have been reduced very slightly over the past two decades. Of
course, the statutory limit is of little relevance if it is not properly

Statistics for this are, clearly, difficult to obtain. Anecdotal
evidence suggests that, generally, many ASEAN governments are making some
slow and uneven progress towards less improper regulation of labour
markets. Examples of this are court cases in which employers are found to
have abused domestic help, uncovering abuses in the treatment of migrant
workers and the very occasional fine of companies exposing their employees
to environmental hazards.

Thailand has the third longest average working week in the world.
Generally, developing countries, Thailand and Philippines included, tend
to have longer working weeks than average, while developed countries tend
to have shorter weeks ¡V Singapore is a notable exception. Not only are
working weeks longer, but retirement provisions, time off from work and
general working conditions are also worse in such countries. The ILO
authors observe that ¡§¡Kin 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.¡¨

Policy recommendations made by the authors 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
    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.
The full text of the report is available online. Lee, Sangheon, Deirdre
McCann and Jon C. Messenger, Working Time around the World: Trends in
Working Hours, Laws and Policies in a Global Comparative Perspective

(Routledge-International Labour Organisation, 2007), see:
A press release accompanying the report is available at:


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