China introduced the eight-hour day in 1960. Now NPC deputy Si Jianmin has called for the working day to be further reduced to six hours. Si, who is also vice president of Zhejiang University, explained his proposal in the March 19 edition of the Zhejiang Daily.
According to Si, China's rapid economic growth and urbanization have led to rush-hour gridlock and the eight-hour day is no longer efficient. Employers have begun to experiment with alternatives and in some cases have already abandoned the eight-hour day.
A six-hour day would improve workers' quality of life, physical and mental health, ease rush-hour traffic and benefit the environment, while at the same time cutting costs and boosting efficiency.
But Yao Yuqun, Professor of Labor Relations and Human Resources at Renmin University, said Si's proposal would increase costs, cut efficiency, and lead to lower earnings for workers. "You have to take into account the worker, the employer, the economic environment, the level of national development and many other factors," he said.
Si argued that studies show effective man-hours in China's workplaces amount to only 70 percent of nominal working time. By reducing working hours without increasing staff numbers, labor efficiency could be increased by up to 25 percent. The effect would be most obvious in government departments and public service units, Si said.
Special work teams should be set up to investigate how to introduce the reform. They should consult public opinion, and especially those workplaces already experimenting with flexible working to beat the rush hour.
The detailed implementation of the six-hour day would vary in different sectors of the economy such as government departments, public service, education, health, research, the financial sector, commercial enterprises, service industries and entertainment, industry, mining and agriculture. Allowances would also be made for different categories of work – for example management level posts and production posts, as well as the specific requirements of some workplaces. The media would have to carry out a wide-ranging campaign to publicize the reform and gather the views and opinions of the public.
To police a six-hour system, it would be necessary to closely regulate piecework and restrict overtime to no more than two hours a day. Overtime should be paid at three times standard rate, said Si.
Employers should be encouraged to hire additional staff to share the existing workload; this would have the additional benefit of reducing unemployment. Si also said that second jobs should be restricted to no more than 20 hours per week.
In a poll of 50,000 netizens conducted by sina.com.cn, more than 70 percent thought a six-hour day would be good for personal health, economic development and city traffic.
But although 70 percent backed the proposal, half thought it unrealistic. "We can't even guarantee an eight hour day. I often work overtime till midnight. Six-hours might work in government offices, but for workers in private industry, it's just pie in the sky," said one netizen.
(China.org.cn by Zhou Jing, March 19, 2008)