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Sunday, October 09, 2005

Shorter working days worse for you

In recent years in Europe there has been a push to lower the working day from 8 hours to 6 hours. Places struggling with chronic unemployment under an overly generous welfare state and extremely strict employment rules are using the idea that it'll be better for workers health as well as creating more jobs. The prime example is France, which has now begun backing away from this time reduction. The problem is that it doesn't create more jobs, as was fairly obvious from the outset, since companies lose productivity but can't afford to hire extra workers under a legal framework that makes each hiring expensive and risky if it doesn't work out. Now in Sweden some councils have been operating a similar system for a few years, but even the shining example is packing it in.
For the last 16 years Kiruna district council has maintained a six hour work day for 250 employees. The idea was that staff would be healthier and more efficient - but now the council has scrapped the policy, saying that it has the opposite effect.

"It has been hard to show any clear effects on health," Carina Bildt at the National Institute for Working Life told Swedish Radio's Ekot programme.

"That could either be because there aren't any, or because there hasn't been a decent evaluation of the benefits."
Kiruna is way way up north and those areas tend to be strongholds for the socialist parties. But even so the policy isn't working out in an ideal population. They try to cover it with "maybe we aren't looking at the right benefits" in a weak attempt to save the day, but that just sounds a bit Chomskyian in its logic. It is also not working elsewhere
According to Ekot, the introduction of a six hour day in the child care sector was a failure because the cost of hiring temporary workers became too expensive. And at a hospital in Stockholm a test in one department was cancelled because staff in other departments became resentful.

Kiruna was the flagship of the policy, but Hans Sedwell, the vice chairman of the council, said that it was simply too expensive and complicated.

"It has been costly for the district and has proven that an organisation does not work with two different agreements on working hours," he said.
So, costly and doesn't do any good. Colour me surprised. It is a bit of a bummer for the minor leftist parties
A six hour work day is a key policy of Sweden's new feminist party, the Feminist Initiative, which argues that it will make working life more accessible to women with children. The Left Party has also shown support for cutting working hours.
Inevitably it'll harm women because companies will not employ more people and will stick to the core workers who are less likely to go off on maternity leave, or leave altogether for family. That is, they'll retain men. It happens already, it is just too damn risky and expensive to do otherwise. Companies hire workers with good records straight out of other companies, no one quits without having another job lined up well in advance and it is damn near impossible to get rid of someone who doesn't perform, so they go after people with existing jobs. Thus the unemployed stay unemployed and the costs of maternity/paternity leave are so high that generally only the state sector has a good fraction of female employees since they are not dependent on productivity to pay out salaries. As for the supposed health benefits?
Carina Bildt said that evidence from France showed that a shorter working day could actually be bad news for workers' health.

"People have seen there that the intensity of the job increases significantly, with negative effects on health as a consequence. It has certainly helped to improve productivity, but sickness has also increased," she said.
No kidding, lower the hours, make it too expensive to hire people and what do you know? The remaining employees have to work harder in a shorter time span for the same output. Duh. Genius.
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Posted by Chefen | 10/09/2005 12:32:00 am


Blogger Berend de Boer said...

But Chefen, if you could afford to work six hours, nothing imposed by government of course, wouldn't you?

10/11/2005 12:36:00 pm  

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