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Is Two-day Weekend Practical?
A Bill has been registered with House of Representative proposing two days of weekend viz: Saturday and Sunday for civil servants keeping weekly hours constant at 40. Other than the extended weekend, it also recommends a raft of sweeteners like ten years waiver for the officials to work at multilateral or donor organisations.
Thanks to the Bill, a long ignored discussion on how many work-hours and work-days make for the optimal has been brought to the fore. The trend in developed countries, though at its infancy, is to reduce weekly working hours from widely practiced 40 to boost productivity and achieve better work-life balance among employees. Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand-based firm, has tried with 4 days or 32 hours of week to so much of success that it is planning to make it a permanent feature. Autonomy, a think tank, proposes nine-hour week for UK to tackle climate change. If not to attain carbon neutrality, the world is clearly moving toward less working hours and days just to spur consumption.
Forget three-day weekend, here it seems we are yet to be rewarded with adequate holidays for festivals. In fact, Nepal government curtailed festival-holidays to 15 in 2076 BS from 32 in 2074 BS to burnish its pro-growth credentials. The thinking the more we work the more, we produce is not without shade of truth if productivity holds. A broad coalition demanded for restoration of those holidays without much success.
Nepal is a mix of diverse ethnic and religious groups. Not surprisingly, public holiday for a festival has evolved to be understood as a proxy for state recognition. A nationwide holiday has three major significances for a particular community. First, it is the state recognition, or legitimacy. Second, they get to celebrate with ease. Third, other ethnic and religious groups will have to acknowledge the festival as any national holiday has a name to it. But, the pertinent question is: Can the government blithely afford to add 52 holidays in the garb of weekend while quietly tossing aside request for 12 additional holidays for festivals?
Before we start forming opinions as to whether we should have 40 holidays then, it will serve to understand how weekend came into being. Prior to industrialisation, people worked whenever they felt necessary, mostly in agriculture. Apart from those employed by government, there were no organised sectors that would hire workers en masse. Transition to factory work brought in lot of friction. When do you pray? People had greater affinity for god back then and observation of Sabbath was obligatory. Jews demanded holidays on Saturday and Christians on Sunday coinciding with their faith.
The word ‘weekend’ was mentioned by British scholarly journal ‘Notes and Queries’ for the first time in 1879. But proper weekend was not easily forthcoming though. Industrialists believed they had ownership over labourers and asked them to put in long hours. In fact, in 1890 average workweek for full-time manufacturing employees was 100 hours. Labour unions had begun to emerge earlier, notably, ‘Knights of Labour’. ‘Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest and eight hours for what you will,’ originally dreamed up by philosopher Thomas More became the slogan for eight-hour day movement.
Though the first five-day workweek in the US was instigated by ‘New England Cotton Mill’ in 1908, the credit for making it a standard feature goes to Henry Ford. In 1926, Ford motor company – one of the largest employers then -- initiated eight-hour day and 40-hour week work policy keeping the total wage unchanged. But, the move was not out of pure benevolence. Ford found out his own employees could be some of the best customers of his product – cars. Two days of weekend could persuade them to buy cars to drive.
But how long do Nepali counterparts work? It is 10 AM to 5 PM or seven hours on Sunday to Thursday and 10 AM to 3 PM or five hours on Friday. That makes for 40 hours a week and 2080 annual hours. Nepal has 15 public holidays. Assuming they fall on weekend, it becomes 105 hours. Or, Nepali civil servants work for 1975 annual hours. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates on average Nepalis work for 2012 hours each year.
Nepal is one of the twelve countries to practice one-day weekend. Even if you assume Friday to be half-holiday, weekend stands at 78 days. Add 15 public holidays to it, you get 91 days. So, relative to the US we are short on working hours but long on working days. How naïve of us to believe we had economy-busting numbers of public holidays. But, how do we move toward the worldwide standard?
We can adopt two-day weekend for our civil servants and keep public holidays at 15 or worse, outright reduce them to 10. The problem with this approach is over a time the weekend structure will trickle down to private sectors. We are already under pressure to allot additional festival holidays while also maintaining enough work-hours to keep business cost in check. Trust me, everyone will enjoy the extended weekend but still will not cease to ask for holidays on various festivals which government will not be in position to award. It will foster unwarranted animosity among ethnic races and create fissures along ethnic lines. Worse, our culture and tradition would come under threat of extinction for lack of observation. Just look at ‘Ghatasthapana’.
But, there is an alternative. Friday has been a drag for workers as they still have to turn up for work. It has been nuisance for customers as they cannot benefit from full day of service either. Making Friday a full working day while keeping working hours unchanged gives us 42-hour week. It falls within 48 hours workweek beyond which is defined by International Labour Organisation (ILO) as excessive. That translates to 2184 annual hours. Subtracting 15 holidays for festivals or 105 hours gives us 2079 hours. Trying to equate work-hour with Americans which was 2007 hours frees us another 72 hours, or 10 days approximate. That alone can gratify significant wishes of various ethnic groups.
As Chinese and Indians prosper they would want to travel outward for vacation. Nepal, juxtaposed between them with plenty of natural beauty, can add to allure by showcasing cultural events. Shakela, Udhauli, Ubhauli, Maghi, Gai Jatra, Lhosar; we are never short of those. Just look at Malaysia and Indonesia for inspiration. But culture and tradition can only be preserved with active involvement of state. The least government can do is to declare those festivals holidays for Nepalis and foreigners alike to travel, watch, and appreciate.
The Bill, which is with State Affairs Committee of the Federal Parliament for deliberation, is expected to come with elaborated list of benefits ranging from rational to whimsical. But the one that stood out claims additional holiday will infuse a feeling of gratefulness among civil servants which has gone amiss. Extra day of holiday surely will, but more so if it also coincides with the festival they observe.
(Parajuli works with Himalayan Bank Limited)
Narayan Kaji Shrestha is the secretariat member and spokesperson of the ruling Nepal Communist Party. Although he had staked his claim to the post of...