Article (September-2021)


6 hour shift working will generate employment

G.M. Saini

Designation : -   Advocate

Organization : -  Labour & Employment Law, New Delhi


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There is a buzzing sound that industries be allowed to work 4 days only with 3 full days paid holidays in the week, if they work 12 hours per day; or to work 5 days only with 2 full days paid holidays in the week, if they work 9.5 hours per day. The reason cited is to give boost to the struggling industries, more particularly due to aftermath of Covid-19. It is expected that working continuously for more hours at a stretch is the great need of the changed times to achieve more productivity. It is also expected that after enjoying longer rest and holidays with the family for continuous three days in one go, the workers will be overwhelmingly rejuvenated, more energetic and more productive, when they come back at work. Some Corporates are believed to be quite excited with the idea of 12 hour shift working. They feel such a move is inevitable and welcome in current global competitive conditions. They would be happy with 12 hour longer work-shift at a stretch without payment of overtime rate of wages for the work done beyond 8 hours. But the rider is that existing maximum limit of 48 hours only to work in a week is sacrosanct and will remain the same. Employers will, however, not be required to seek prior permission to switch over to 12 hour shift-working or to 9.5 hours shift-working or back to 8 hours shift-working.

Many employees are already used to working more than 8 hours each day, either on overtime or without it. Employees working in establishments like MNCs, ITES etc. are already working long, odd and erratic hours, not only from their offices, but also from out of offices, viz., from canteens, from their homes, from roadside, from their running car, from metro bogie, from railway platform or inside the train, from airport lounges, from overseas, including when they are on holidays etc., as they are all the time connected to their work portal on their laptops/tablets/mobiles. Practically they have no defined or fixed working hours. They may be working such long hours not necessarily because they enjoy or love to work long hours, but more importantly because they are always under stress for survival and to save their jobs. Their life-style has become such that they cannot afford any delay, let alone any loss or cut, in receiving their full pay-packet credited in their bank accounts every month on time. EMIs of their house, car, white goods, children's school fee etc. are linked to their salary credited on time in their bank accounts. Therefore, working 12 hours may not be an issue with such employees. Modern shining offices provide glamorous ambience, but no job security. One may call it slavery with luxury.

When total maximum working hours in a week will remain the same as 48 hours, whether by working 4 days, or 5 days, with 12 hour shift or 9.5 hour shift in the week, respectively, production output is also likely to remain almost the same as earlier. It may be cited that few establishments in other countries have already successfully experimented 4 days' work-week with 3 days paid holidays with 12 hour work-shifts, and they have experienced better productivity from their workers. 12 hour shift-working experimented by some establishments in few rich and advanced countries have remained confined to experiments only. Their handful experiments have not been adopted as national norm in those countries, let alone as universal norm. But that sounds like comparing apples with oranges. Comparing the poor and unfavourable prevailing conditions in our country, viz., over-sized population, poor working conditions, purposeless work-culture, closed outlook, outdated work-methods, poor, inadequate and insufficient infrastructure, old and obsolete machines and equipments, rigid and inflexible attitude of workers and employers, non-cooperative trade unions, poor automation, insufferable weather conditions etc.; with the advanced countries having better working conditions in all above said areas, respectively, is unlikely to give similar productivity results. We have several hurdles in our industrial format. Besides the reasons mentioned above, our people have a tendency to oppose and resistany change, even for their good, with suspicion. Rigid multiple statutory permissions and compliances, inspector-raj, archaic and over-protective labour laws, obtaining consent of workers for making any changes in work methods are irritating road-blockers. Trade unions play their own hostile roles. Trade unions may oppose this idea, for the sake of just to oppose it; and also since the same number of workers will be working 4 days in the week in 12 hour shift, it will not increase their business, i.e., their membership.

Maximum 48 working hours in a week, maximum 8 working hours per day and continuous working hours at a stretch not more than 5 hours without giving a rest interval of at least half an hour; have been fixed by  a resolution of ILO, of which India is a founder member. These provisions are enforced through relevant legislations throughout the country. Thus, 12 hour shift will be contrary to existing legal provisions; and if allowed in any case, it may be run by giving two rest intervals of at least half an hour after every continuous work of 5 hours. Therefore, 12 hours work-shift, plus 1 hour of 2 rest intervals of half hour each, plus 3 to 4 hours of commuting between home and work place, to and fro, each day, plus 8 hours of sleep; it already makes to 24 hours. There will be no time left with the worker to do his daily necessary things, like, to fresh-up, taking bath, having meal etc., leave alone family time. If he will try to devote some time to do daily necessary things, he will have to cut down in his sleeping time, but good sleep is necessary to recoup his body after doing hard labour for 12 long hours shift. Cutting short his sleep time regularly can cut short his life span. Whatever rosy picture is being painted of the benefits of 12 long hours shift working, it cannot be denied that too much of squeezing of the worker on each day, after some time it is bound to badly impact on his health, which will ultimately adversely affect his productivity, his family obligations, his increased medicare etc. Lest it may prove to be a faux pas that 3 long days' continuous paid holidays given to the worker will give positive results. It should be remembered that the worker is more important than the work.

Let us presume positively for a while that 12 hour work-shift with 4 days' work-week with 3 paid holidays will work well. Looking at the other side of this coin, 3 long important productive days will luxuriously and criminally go waste without doing any production. That will be a great national loss, which our country cannot afford, when we are dreaming of becoming a 5 trillion economy. More importantly this format will not at all help to alleviate the exponentially increasing unemployment situation plaguing in the country, which has further worsened very badly after two waves of Covid-19. We must seriously and importantly ponder upon new ways how to generate more employment for the unemployed persons during the said going waste 3 non-working holidays in the establishments and harness the potential optimum production.

Again presuming positively, 12 hour shift working may increase the volume of production, but perhaps not substantially, because total working hours in the week will remain the same as 48 hours, whether they work 12 hours a day in 4 days, or 9.5 hours in 5 days or 8 hours a day in 6 days of the week. At the same timethis scheme will not help in reducing the number of unemployed youth in the country. Because the number of workers who were erstwhile working 8 hours shift during 5 days or 6 days in a week, the same number of workers only will be working in the proposed system of 12 hour shift, or 9.5 hour shift with no additional new employment, allowing 3 important days to go idle, unutilized and sheer waste.

As mentioned earlier, the crucial concern on our hand is to provide more jobs to as many more people as possible particularly after covid-19 aftermath, rather than trying to extract more production out of the same existing numberof workers by forcing and tiring them to work more number of hours in one day. Some scheme may be devised that these 3 paid holidays which would be going criminally waste at production facilities should be better utilized by engaging the large number of unemployed people on these days. This way they will get engaged in contributing extra production. They will contribute to their household and to the national GDP as well.

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G.M. Saini - Advocate, Employment laws, New Delhi