By Krishna Jha
Looking at the data and studies done across the world, it appears that the Infosys founder N Narayana Murthy when he said that in India youth should work for seventy hours a week, he was ignoring a reality: working hours in India are amongst the longest globally.
The very suggestion, which is expected to turn into a demand to be forced on the labour, has come when the very context of means of production has been changing. Coming out of the massive machines and slogging humans, we are entering an age where work is accomplished with digits and symbols. One journey has come to an end to make way for the new one.
Scientific technological revolution or STR has made it possible to increase the productivity of labour. What it means is more productivity in the same unit of time. That also means working hours could be reduced for the same rate of production. But the point of contention remains. It is the shift in the infrastructure with same content of superstructure. Masters are almost same, though in a new garb, change is located in the instruments of production. Production time is less and but intensity is thicker. There is another accompanying evil.
The concentration of capital is growing. Financial institutions and multinational corporations are increasingly gaining power over the world economy. It is now easier for them to dictate the terms of labour. It is now possible for them to dismantle the existing labour and machine and industrial machinery system. Also it has become possible for them to force increase the working hours. This will enable them to pay less to the worker. This can also lead to throwing out the workers. More the work time gets reduced for the same amount of production, the shifts should have been shortened, instead they are suggested to be stretched further.
The intention is to have more production, hiring less labour at small wages. The result is rise in unemployment. Combined with it is the fall in purchasing capacity. The commodities that flood the market have no takers. The obvious result is massive accumulation of goods, rotting and wasting while the masses from all sections except the privileged few, starve, suffer and perish. Once again the depression is going to swallow the world. One is reminded of the words of Karl Marx as he had said, ‘British steam and science had uprooted the whole surface of Hindustan.’ That was imperialism, and so it is now.
So far as the working hours are concerned, the latest data for 2023 of International Labour Organisation (ILO) shows that the workers of the country are already working more than their counterparts in other countries. As per the rankings, Indians work 47.7 hours a week, which is seventh longest in the world. The labour laws of the country allow for 48-hour working weeks. Average Indian works virtually every day of the week. The data was based on the time use survey conducted by India for the first time in 1921.
The ILO has also pointed out that the 70-hour work-week is not mandated under any national law in any country. Instead developed nations are moving towards the ILO’s latest convention that mandates a 40-hour work-week in place of the 48-hour work convention, which was ratified by several countries including India way back in 1921.
“India was among the first countries to ratify ILO Convention 1 on July 14, 1921, limiting the working hours of persons in any public and private industrial undertaking to eight in the day and 48 in the week,” said the wage expert in ILO.
The labour productivity growth in India has also slowed down substantially in the last few years. Despite the fact that self-employment has gone up, which could have increased the working hours of people, productivity has not seen a substantial increase.
A study published by The Lancet pointed out a deep structural issue. As per the study, the expected human capital, which shows the number of years an individual can work at peak productivity, was amongst the lowest in India.
India ranked 158 in the list of 195 countries, suggesting that Indians worked for only seven years at their peak productivity as compared to 28 years of number 1 ranked Finland. The research noted that the focus needs to be on education and health along with physical infrastructure to boost economic productivity in a country.
While the country debates what is the appropriate number of hours to work in a week, the reality of Indian workforce and the studies on productivity need to be taken into account to arrive at the right answer. One might need to ponder: will working for longer be the solution for increasing productivity in the coming years?
Another reality to acknowledge is the quality of jobs available for workers. Recently, the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) suggested that self-employment is on the rise while wage employment has shrunk in the last six years. Given the fact that a large share of India’s workforce is employed in informal sector, it has been difficult to gauge the exact number of hours worked in a week. (IPA Service)