At the Equality Institute we are convinced that the unmet demand for acceptable working time, evidence the inability to build agreements on the type of industrial relations that we are interested in developing to reconcile social welfare, productivity and the competitiveness of companies. And little help consensus, the inertia of authoritarian corporate culture and neoliberal economists, without training in industrial relations, with simplistic views such as claiming that reducing the 40-hour day to 40 hours means an increase in costs of 11%, applying a simple rule of three.
Is it not considered that the last hours of daily work are possibly less productive than the previous ones? What the mental health impact creates absenteeism and costs for businesses and the health system, what does job dissatisfaction reduce returns and productivity? One would ask economists for greater scientific rigour and some attention to other sciences in their analyses.
Let us remember that there are important social consensuses, recognized in international treaties, that it is not otherwise bringing up in the context of these discussions. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that “everyone has the right to rest, to enjoy time off, to a reasonable limitation of the duration of work and to regular paid leave”. The International Covenant on Social and Cultural Economic Rights repeats almost literally the same norm.
These international legal instruments indicate that the regulation of the day must consider its effects in the two areas of the hours not worked: rest and free time, which implies that any day system, incorporating mechanisms flexibilizers, must guarantee the certainty or predictability of the day, to plan the free time and have a certain regularity of their breaks.
The question is how we get the interests of workers and employers reconciled. The Government’s proposal lowers the standards of protection and leaves the employer the responsibility to organize the working time, according to the needs of each company, that is to say it deregulates, because the flexibility achieved by the individual agreement, is the denial of the right of work and its protective purpose. It means nullifying the principle of the non-waiver of rights and leaving workers subject to the unilateral will of the employer.
No one has said that working hours and the regulation of breaks are immovable. The Labour Code establishes differentiations and there are a number of special days and contracts, which take care of the particularity of certain areas of activity. There are also instruments to adapt days and breaks in each company, such as the system applied in mining, clinics, security companies, etc.
A step forward in the recent debate is that the word flexibility is no longer anathema, it is possible to talk about the need for working time to suit the needs of the company and workers, without resorting to the euphemism of adaptability. But this requires instruments that avoid transforming flexibility into deregulation.
Any adequacy of the distribution of the day, must be done with the trade union organization or, in its absence, with the validation of the Directorate of Labour. In addition, there must be parameters established in the law that identify daily, weekly and possibly monthly maximums, the requirements of rest, certainty in relation to working times and, the guarantee that such flexibility does not affect safety and workers’ health.
There is consensus that the effective working day should decrease and if this requires graduality and flexibility, it must go hand in hand with effective social dialogue, recognizing the role of trade unions and with an important intervention by the Directorate of Labour , endowed with the powers and resources to do so, with clear parameters defined in the law.
It is necessary to emphasize the relevance of social dialogue, with important leadership of the State, in which social actors, trade unions and employers’ associations, make long-term agreements and promote the leap that is required to consolidate the economic and social development.
Topics such as working day and breaks involve agreements by areas or branches of activity. Employers, their advisers and economists should stop being terrified of this word, they should have the openness to recognize the contribution of the organization of workers in the construction of agreements. Possibly the difficult thing for them is that it involves redistributing social power and thereby improving the redistribution of wealth.
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