A new report from the ILO, the International Labor Office, says that one in five workers around the world are working more than 48 hours a week. The report says many are working excessive hours just to make ends meet.
John Messenger is a senior research officer for the ILO and co-author of the report. From Geneva, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the finings.
“614 million workers around the world are working these long hours. And that really has some substantial negative consequences for health and safety, for accidents in the workplace, for family life, as well as on productivity,” he says.
Messenger says there are a number of reasons for the long hours. “One is frankly that workers in many developing and transition countries need to be able to work long hours just to make ends meet because hourly wages are so low. At the same time, companies in these countries – these aren’t necessarily multi-nationals we’re talking about, but a lot of locally owned, locally based companies – are operating very long hours, asking their workers to work very long hours because frankly their hour productivity is quite low. In addition to that you have issues relating to laws in the country and the extent to which those laws are actually enforced. I’m talking about laws regarding working hours,” he says.
As for Africa, the ILO official says, “To the extent that data was available, we did look at African countries as well. It’s often very difficult to obtain valid, reliable statistical data on working hours in many African countries…there’s a substantial portion of workers who are working long hours as well, such as, for example, in Ethiopia and Tanzania.
“But in Africa, the problems are also of a different nature because of the very large informal economy. And there you have both substantial proportions of workers working long hours – often for very low pay – just to try to be able to scrape together a living. But also, substantial portions of workers who are working short hours because they’re underemployed and they’re unable to find enough work. And particularly, we believe, for women because they have a very heavy burden of domestic and care responsibilities, which take very large amounts of time. And therefore, keep them from being able to have more regular employment.”
The ILO report recommends reducing long working hours, adopting family-friendly working time measures, such as flexi-time, emergency family leave and part time work.