The issue of the five-day workweek with one fixed day and one flexible day off has been the source of much debate lately. I did not really understand the whole issue until my husband, who is busy, proposed during a regular family get-together that we could meet at a restaurant a little further from home next time.
The reason was that with the five-day workweek, an employee is no longer allowed to work overtime on his weekly fixed day off unless there is a natural disaster or an emergency. Since he cannot work on at least one day each week, he should use that day to get some rest.
This is fantastic: My husband can now finally come home, mentally as well as physically, at least one day every week. I keep cheering inside and thinking that this is a wonderful system.
The five-day workweek also makes me think of the intentions behind the UN’s push for a “green” economy.
The global economic environment has been deteriorating in recent years. In order to improve our well-being, the UN has proposed a series of “green” policies, one of which is the “decent job creation” policy.
Since the 1980s, the world has been moving toward liberalization and deregulation, and the accompanying free competition has caused companies to go too far in streamlining operations, which has led to frequent instances of “death from overwork.”
However, death from overwork is hard to prove and the death of a worker is often attributed to congenital cardiovascular disease or habits such as smoking, and this is a source of labor disputes.
To resolve such disputes, advanced countries are adopting compulsory measures to force employers to make concessions. In its push for the development of a “green” economy, the UN is also taking decent job creation into consideration and it emphasizes that companies — in addition to meeting the demand for reasonable wages — should pay greater attention to issues such as dignity, fairness and safety. To achieve this, employees must be given enough time to rest.
Much of the debate surrounding the implementation of the five-day workweek tends to be critical.
For example, the system is often blamed for triggering price hikes, as employers complain that the policy is causing their costs to rise and that these costs are not reflected in prices. Employees, on the other hand, complain that the increased overtime pay is offset by the price hikes.
In addition, the government is being criticized for not having given the issue thorough consideration. While it may be true that the five-day workweek has caused inconvenience, there are two sides to every coin. Reform can eliminate unfairness and conflict, but it can also be painful. If we are unable to endure this and instead choose to leave a mess by abandoning reform, we will only suffer even more.
If we can handle problems with tolerance and a cheerful attitude, there is a chance that unpleasant matters could turn into something positive and pleasant.
I am very pleased that my husband can now spend one day with the family every week. Maybe our income will shrink a little as a result, but intangible benefits, such as family time, will increase a lot.
Perhaps this is the true reason the UN is emphasizing decent job creation in its bid for the development of a “green” economy.
Liao Huei-chu is a professor in the Department of Economics at Tamkang University.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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