70 hour work a week is illogical suggestion

INFOSYS Chairman Narayana Murthy has stirred a hornet’s nest by throwing an idea that the working hours of employees and workers should be fixed seventy hours a week. However, a large number of workers, trade unions and even politicians are up against this idea. The opposition has erupted against this stupid idea which he has proposed. It must be mentioned here that there have been agitations across the world in the late 19th century with regard to limiting working hours to eight hours per day for six days a week.

After years of struggle in May 1886, the workers went on for complete strike in support of their demand. Many of them, around two dozen, were killed and suffered violence of various types. Now after nearly 150 years if somebody is advocating for increasing the working of workers from a 48-hour week to 70 hours a week is certainly inhuman, illogical and cruel to say the least. Even in the ‘Occupational Safety, health and Working Code’, which is yet to be promulgated although it has already got the presidential assent after being passed by both houses of Parliament, there is a provision of only 48 hours a week. For journalists, it is only thirty-six a week has been prescribed, which means 144 hours in a month. The only change that has been suggested in the OSH Code is that working hours can be increased to 12 hours a day provided it is four days a week working. Now here are some industrialists who are talking about 70 hours a week of work for the workers in the name of increasing the productivity of the country.

No doubt, increasing production is an important factor but what about the mental and physical health of the working class? 12 hours of work a day means effectively 14 hours a day because it will take at least two hours for a worker to commute from the workplace to his/her dwelling place and vice versa. He/she will have to spend at least one hour to be ready to go to the workplace. Thus, it will be 15 hours in a day. How much time the worker will be able to give to family and attend the household work can be well imagined by anybody.

A worker will have an enormous amount of physical and mental wear and tear resulting in his/her bad health and invitation to a number of diseases. Thus ultimately, what is being thought of as a measure to increasing productivity by enhancing the working hours will be disadvantageous to the working class, the society and the country as a whole. Surprisingly, the illogical and anti-worker opinion/ suggestion of Narayan Murthy has got support from business tycoons like Tech Mahindra’s CP Gurnani and JSW Chairman Sajjan Jindal. In fact, the 70-hour work week would be synonymous with that of running a “sweatshop”.

In India, the primary statutes which talk about working hours are the Factories Act, 1948 (“Factories Act’) and the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 (“Minimum Wages Act”). Both the Acts are fairly uniform as to the upper ceiling of daily and weekly working hours – which are 9 hours and 48 hours respectively. The Factories Act, additionally, entitles each worker to a break of at least half an hour (not more than 5 hours of work should pass before such an interval). Both the Acts further strive to provide overtime compensation at the rate of double the wages for each hour of work undertaken in excess of the threshold of 9 hours. It is imperative to note though – that the applicability of the Factories Act extends only to Factories employing 10 or more persons and where some manufacturing process is carried on; whereas the Minimum Wages Act is majorly applicable over any employment which employs more than 1000 employees in a state.

In so far as all other establishments are concerned, their working is regulated in accordance with the Shops and Establishments Acts of each state. The Karnataka Shops and Commercial Establishments Act, 1961 (“Karnataka Shops Act”) is applicable to all shops and commercial establishments of the state with its provisions pertaining to working hours (both daily and weekly) being no different to the two above-mentioned legislations. Under the Karnataka Shops Act, the spread over, in any case, cannot exceed 12 hours – with the overtime payment of up to 2 extra hours. The same is also the case with the Delhi Shops and Establishments Act, of 1954. Therefore, the sooner this idea of Narayan Murthy is given a go-by, the better for the country. In this age of Technology and Artificial Intelligence, why he is talking about enhancing the working hours of workers defies all logic.