A recent study on burnout in the workplace gave rise to a parliamentary question to the Department of Labor and Employment on the issue of whether the number of working hours for South Africans should be reduced.
The study was conducted by the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology in South Africa (Siopsa) and indicates that South Africans have some of the longest working hours in the world.
The study refers to data which indicates that the majority of South African employees work between 40 hours and 48 hours per week. A fifth (21%) of the workforce work more than 49 hours a week. This while most developed countries’ workers work between 30 and 35 hours a week.
According to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA), South Africans may not work more than 45 hours per week. The working day may also be no longer than nine hours if workers work five days or less, and no longer than eight hours if they work more than five days a week.
The law sets the overall target as 40 hours per week.
The Department of Employment and Labor now says there is room to conduct further research into the reduction of working hours in South Africa.
In an answer to a parliamentary question by Siphosethu Ngcobo, MP and member of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), last week, the department said that international labor practices provide for the “progressive reduction of working hours, where appropriate, without an accompanying reduction in wages”.
However, research in a local context is lacking, the department said.
The Commission for Conditions of Service – which has since been disbanded – already investigated the possibility of reduced working hours in 2014. Research between 2006 and 2012 then also showed progress in reducing working hours for certain industries:
- The textile and construction industry as a whole has been brought into line with the target of 40 hours per week.
- Workers in the glass sector worked between 40 and 42 hours.
- The sugar manufacturing industry’s working hours were reduced from 46 hours to 43 hours.
- Workers in the metal and engineering industry have been working 40 hours a week since 2002.
- 99% of civil service workers work 40 hours a week.
However, since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, South Africans’ work culture has changed significantly, but no follow-up studies have been done on this. The department therefore recognizes the need for further research to establish the progress in reducing working hours.
“The feasibility of reducing working hours and the unforeseen consequences that may arise from it must also be investigated, especially in sectors where the minimum wage is in question,” said the department.
According to the department, the working hours issue will also be discussed at the next meeting of the National Economic Development and Labor Council’s (Nedlac) task force for labor law reform.
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