Given the challenges with the levels of productivity in T&T, a four-day work week may not be the best option for the country at this moment according to the views of some of the country’s business leaders.
Following the growing trend globally, Germany, Europe’s largest economy has just started a trial where employees from select companies will work for four days with the same salary.
The Employers’ Consultative Association (ECA), T&T’s largest employer-umbrella organisation in a statement to Sunday Business said it is not sure that the domestic economy is ready for the four-day work week concept.
“While in principle we are not opposed to the idea of a four-day work week, we are not certain that presently our economy is ready to embrace a shift of this magnitude and its potential challenges. The four-day work week has been mainly trialled within developed economies – which are often underpinned by high productivity rankings. Within the context of T&T, our mechanisms for measuring workplace productivity are lacking and so we do not have a full scope on where we stand as a nation.”
The ECA also said that to its knowledge, no company in T&T has started such trials or has shown any interest in doing that.
The ECA said that the success of a four-day work week all depends upon the national context particularly the robustness of existing labour policies that drive productivity, innovation and competitiveness as well as the more implicit elements of a society such as norms and cultural values.
“Moreover, a four-day work week, requires some level of give and take and the willingness to make compromises. In some instances, there might be the requirement to compress the standard 40 hours into four days, while on the other hand, there might be the need to reduce salaries if fewer days are to be worked, to better manage operational overheads of the organisation. Furthermore, it also is counter-intuitive to consider implementing a four-day work week when there are some everyday challenges that hinder productivity.”
According to the ECA, one of the strongest arguments that various think tanks and polic makers have put forward in support of a four-day work week, is that it improves human well being – and subsequently their ability to work.
“However, there are many other factors which impact well-being. As revealed in a recently published study by Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC,) 69 per cent of people said that traffic congestion affected their physical health while 64 per cent reported experiencing stress each workday due to traffic congestions.
“This study also highlighted that 33 days, the equivalent of one month per year, is lost due to traffic congestion. It is imperative that we first address issues like these before we can even engage in conversations on a reduced workweek, which in itself does not necessarily guarantee a serious reduction in traffic congestions as the working population may still need to be on the road five days a week for other activities, such as transporting children to and from school.”
T&T’s top employer body also said the country also needs to be mindful that a four-day week, or any reduced type of work week, brings with it a series of unique challenges for some type of sectors.
“This will not be a homogenous arrangement across all organisations, as different businesses stand to be impacted differently by this. Take for example the manufacturing sector – where workers often operate on separate shifts. Under a four-day workweek, this would need to be further streamlined in such a way that factory operations are not disrupted. A four-day work week would also not be feasible for certain industries, where support services are essential to business operations. For example, within the ICT sector, support is an on-demand service and operations often need to cover a five-day work week and sometimes beyond.”
There are other factors to consider such as time off and leave, in considering a four-day work week, the ECA said.
“In considering the impact of a four-day work week, we also need to consider provisions for leave. How then would this impact forms of leave such as casual and vacation leave? To further compound the complexity of a four-day work week is also the fact that T&T is among the highest in the world for public holidays – which already impact national productivity and economic output. That is not to say that a four-day work week is in any way detrimental to an organisation and one can argue that it can even streamline innovative practices.”
The ECA said implementing such a system in T&T would require dialogue among sectors in the country.
“As we engage in conversations on other modalities of work, we also have to acknowledge that various non-traditional forms of work have increasingly become popular over the years within T&T. Remote-work and flexi-time are other popular modes of work and if implemented correctly, can allow for better work-life balance. Indeed, the social problem of traffic congestion within Trinidad and Tobago has reignited a call by some business chambers towards more consideration to be given to remote work options. Similarly, flexi-time arrangements, when used within reason, can also boost productivity and reduce late coming. A four-day workday or any other non- traditional form of work is not without its benefits and drawbacks.”
Impact on productivity
President. Greater San Fernando Area Chamber of Commerce (GSFCC) Kiran Singh told Sunday Business that for T&T, a small developing island economy, adopting business practices from more developed economies without modifying them may not be ideal.
He pointed out that the productivity levels in Germany are very different to T&T and there are many complex factors that must be considered to even begin to implement such a system.
“It is easy to say, adopt a four-day work week in our country, but there are many factors to consider. Do we share the same work ethic as some of the aforementioned countries? Is it that all businesses and government offices will be closed on the fifth day? How will shift workers benefit from such a system? What management systems/logistics will be put in place to ensure that the ‘100-80-100 system’ is adhered to? While there has been some success in some of the pilot programmes, they were isolated to larger conglomerates and a small number of government workers. These experiments were short-term. Prolonged trials are now being implemented, and we await the data.”
He said companies within the SME framework do not possess the necessary resources to pilot these programmes, which means that Government intervention via cash injections would be required to launch this experiment.
“We are faced with several logistical challenges to implement such a system. It would necessitate improving the transportation network, reducing traffic congestion and dealing with the rampant crime wave.
Another option, and a more feasible one, may be the 9:80 system in which a full two weeks work (80 hours) is done in nine days. This has proven to be effective in quite a few local energy-based companies. Workers meet their deadlines and quota of work and are given every other Friday off. It also means that the company is not closed for business on Fridays but rather run on half the compliment of staff.”
He said T&T’s work culture has to change dramatically for this to even be considered.
“In the public service for example, cashiers are notorious for closing at 3pm and at lunch time, late arrivals and early departures are the norm. Many persons have left this country seeking a better life abroad and worked not one but two jobs. Why can’t we demonstrate this level of dedication and commitment within our own borders?”
He also pointed out that T&T is ranked in the top 10 countries for the most holidays in the world and there is also the Carnival season when productivity levels are known to diminish.
“We would have to undergo a whole nationwide retraining of the workforce, possibly starting at the school level to inculcate a strong, positive work ethic among the population.”