A four-day workweek in the post-pandemic era

Published April 10, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Senator Sonny Angara

Senator Sonny Angara

As our economy continues to reopen in the face of dwindling Covid-19 cases, the country is now faced with very high fuel prices due to global supply issues caused by the ongoing armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine. This has led to even higher food, utilities, and transport costs — with inflation hitting a six-month high last March. These developments pose significant challenges to ongoing efforts at reviving our ailing economy. More importantly, they add to the heavy burden many Filipinos are still carrying on account of the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

This is why Socioeconomic Secretary Karl Chua recently suggested that the country should implement a four-day workweek to “alleviate costs on related expenses, such as fuel and transport costs.” He explained that under such a setup, employees would still render 40 hours of work per week by working 10 hours per day instead of the current eight hour shift.

The proposal was backed by the Department of Energy (DOE), who even suggested that work-from-home setups should be extended. Meanwhile, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), who noted that the country’s Labor Code does not provide the minimum number of working days in one week, expressed interest in this scheme but stressed that the decision — in the case of private companies and establishments — ultimately remains with the management. On the other hand, the Civil Service Commission (CSC) floated the suggestion that employees be allowed to work from home on the fifth day instead of compressing the working hours.

It should be noted that the Philippines has adopted such a setup before — back in 1990 and 2008. More recently, many progressive countries around the world — such as Scotland, Spain, Iceland, Belgium, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) — have already considered, piloted, experimented with, or adopted a compressed workweek.

Those who argue for a four-day workweek cite increased productivity and better work-life balance for employees. Alex Pang of the 4 Day Week Global Team, a not-for-profit community advocating for this kind of scheme, stated that companies who implemented this setup found that they were just as productive when compared to the normal five-day work schedule. In fact, some companies experienced higher revenues and profits simply because a four-day work week was cheaper to implement. In addition, he argued that this setup helped improve the retention rates of many companies and attracted more workers.

An often cited case in support of this scheme is the experience of Microsoft Japan in 2019, when it tested a four-day workweek. Apparently, the experiment resulted in a 40-percent increase in productivity, and reduced electricity consumption and paper printing. At the time, the idea was considered on the fringe. But interestingly, in June 2021, the Japanese government issued its annual economic policy guidelines which included plans to encourage employers to adopt four-day workweeks.

This isn’t to say however that there aren’t any downsides to the compressed schedule. For example, in a 2018 study of a New Zealand company which adopted the four-day workweek, some employees noted that “the urgency and pressure [of the new setup] were causing heightened stress levels.” Some have also highlighted several concerns with adopting the setup, particularly from companies dealing directly with clients who expect a full five-day work schedule.

While it appears the idea has gained currency across the world, there are those here at home who have expressed their reservations. For instance, the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) argued that while the proposal may be possible as a temporary setup, it may not achieve the desired goal of cutting costs. ECOP President Sergio Ortiz-Luis Jr. commented to the media that a four-day workweek might be abused and could impact the well-being of the workers. The Foreign Buyers Association of the Philippines (FOBAP) also said that the setup might result in delays in their shipments especially for those in the apparel, garments, and textile sectors to potentially impact their $1.5 billion export target in 2022.

Clearly, there are merits to both arguments for or against the NEDA proposal. But while Malacañang has yet to formally announce its decision in the matter, some across the government — such as the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, the Court of Tax Appeals, the Sandiganbayan, and Iloilo Province — have already adopted the shortened schedule. Be that as it may, what appears to be critical is that there is enough policy flexibility for workers and employers alike to arrive upon mutually beneficial work arrangements — where people can still be productive, without burdening them too much with additional costs.

E-mail: [email protected]| Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara
Senator Sonny Angara has been in public service for 15 years — nine years as Representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and six as Senator. He has authored and sponsored more than 250 laws. He is currently serving his second term in the Senate.