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Nearly a quarter of world’s workforce clocking ‘excessive’ hours – UN report

Nearly a quarter of world’s workforce clocking ‘excessive’ hours – UN report

A new study by the United Nations labour agency finds that more than one in five workers around the world – over 600 million people – are working “excessively” long hours.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that 22 per cent of the global workforce are still working more than 48 hours a week, “often merely to make ends meet.”

The study, Working Time Around the World: Trends in working hours, laws and policies in a global comparative perspective, spotlights working time in over 50 countries, and for the first time explores the implications for working time policies in developing and transition countries.

“The good news is that progress has been made in regulating normal working hours in developing and transition countries, but overall the findings of this study are definitely worrying, especially the prevalence of excessively long hours,” said Jon C. Messenger, Senior Research Officer for the ILO’s Conditions of Work and Employment Programme and a co-author of the study.

In the period from 2004 to 2005, Peru topped the list with just over half of its workers (50.9 per cent) putting in long working hours – defined as more than 48 hours per week. Following close behind were the Republic of Korea at 49.5 per cent, Thailand at 46.7 per cent, and Pakistan at 44.4 per cent.

Among developed countries, where working hours are typically shorter, the United Kingdom stood at 25.7 per cent, Israel at 25.5 per cent, Australia at 20.4 per cent, Switzerland at 19.2 per cent, and the United States at 18.1 per cent.

The study points out the positive consequences of shorter hours, including benefits to workers’ health and family lives, reduced accidents at the workplace, greater productivity and equality between the sexes.

The study highlights a “gender gap” in working time. It says men tend to work longer average hours than women worldwide, with women working shorter hours in almost every country studied. This is likely due to women bearing the primary responsibility for “unpaid” work in households and caring for family members, including children, the elderly and individuals suffering from diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

Among its recommendations, the study calls for measures that allow workers to devote more time to their families and to have more influence over their work schedules, in order to make formal jobs a possibility for more women.