A six-day work week: a leaked email reveals that European officials are demanding this from Greece, as one of the terms for receiving its next €30 billion installment of bailout funds.
A one day weekend? I can hear the complaints in the U.S. (and even louder ones from college students who seem to think the weekend begins on Thursday night).
The Troika Makes a Harsh Demand
Last month, officials from the “troika” of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Commission and the European Central Bank (ECB) visited Athens, to check Greece’s progress in making a further €11.6 billion in spending cuts. These cuts were supposed to have been made in June, when Greece was in political paralysis as a second round of elections had to be held after May elections gave no party enough of a majority.
In the past few weeks, the Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras, has made the rounds in meeting European heads of state, seeking — and seeming to gain, from Germany and France — assurances they want Greece to remain in the euro zone rather than for a “Grexit” to occur. Greece must meet its bailout terms but Samaras has been trying to change those somewhat. Greece’s economy is in it fifth year of recession and Samaras wants Greece’s creditors to let it have four years to implement fiscal reforms instead of an agreed-upon two.
The demand for a six-day work week is one of those conditions.
The 40-Plus Hour Work Week
Some facts about the hours of the work week in the context of workers’ rights and economic gains.
1. A six-day work week could mean working 48 hours per week. The International Labor Organization has said that standard working hours cannot exceed 48 hours per week and eight hours per day. A six-day work week in Greece would edge near that limit.
2. By way of comparison, Foxconn employees have worked seven-day work weeks. One of the reasons that Apple supplier Foxconn came under fire was that employees were working in excess of 60 hours a week. By July 1, 2013, Foxconn says workers will not work more than (a mere) 49 hours a week.
3. Another comparison: In Turkey, across the sea from Greece, a typical work week is 45 hours long, to be spread out over six days.
3. Advantages of a longer work week? South Koreans once had the longest working hours in the world (49.3). But with the rise in economic prosperity, a five-day work week became the national standard in 2002. While there are now more people working in South Korea for fewer hours, some analysts point out that more workers have less stable jobs and that the number of short-time workers has grown.
5. A seven-day work week was the U.S. norm — over 100 years ago. In the US in the 1880s, the typical work week averaged 60 hours — yes, far longer than the 40 hours considered routine for working Americans now.
6. Working more than 40 hours a week could be bad for your health. Studies have shown that working longer hours can be hard on your body. It’s also been argued that a 40-hour work week is necessary to maintain our sanity.
Could the Troika’s Demand Backfire?
Greeks are already striking regularly over wage cuts and backpay. Greek daily Ekathimerini reports that Wednesday, a number of civil servants — including hospital doctors, hospital administrators, members of the judiciary and university officials — are holding strikes or threatening them, to protest salary cuts and demand payment for overtime and emergency shifts.
The troika’s request for a longer work week for Greeks, whose work culture is viewed as “dysfunctional” outside its borders, is certainly an infringement on Greece’ sovereignty. It could lead to further clashes between fed-up Greeks whose salaries and pensions have already been cut several times. Is this demand another step on (what some keep predicting) Greece exiting the euro zone?
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Photo by George Laoutaris