The Chilean Congress recently passed a new law to gradually reduce the workweek from 45 to 40 hours, joining a global trend of working fewer hours and days to improve the quality of life for Telework. However, the move also highlights how far behind other countries in Latin America are in this regard.
Latin America has legislation that is lagging behind in terms of working hours, according to the director of the International Labor Organization (ILO) for the Southern Cone of the Americas, Fabio Bertranou. In light of this, Chile’s new law provides a promising example for other countries in the region to follow.
The new law, signed by President Gabriel Boric on April 14th, will gradually reduce the workweek by one hour per year over the next five years. Workers will also have the possibility of working four days and taking three off a week, and a maximum of five overtime hours per week will be allowed. Exceptions will be made for certain sectors such as mining and transportation, where workers can work up to 52 hours per week if they are compensated with fewer hours in another work week.
This move puts Chile in line with its partners in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), some of which have workweeks that are less than 40 hours, such as Australia, Denmark, and France. However, other countries like Germany, Colombia, Mexico, and the United Kingdom have longer workweeks.
Reducing the workweek has been shown to improve workers’ health, productivity, and overall quality of life. The implementation of this law is a positive step towards achieving a more equitable and balanced society in Chile, and it is hoped that other countries in the region will follow suit in reviewing their own legislation on working hours.
Latin America Lags Behind in Reducing Workweek
As Chile joins the growing list of countries reducing their workweek, Latin America as a whole is lagging behind in terms of working hours. Despite recent legislative changes, most countries in the region still have workweeks that range between 42 and 48 hours, with some allowing for 60 hours or more.
The reduction of Chile’s workweek to 40 hours over the next five years is part of a trend of working fewer hours and days that is spreading in modern economies. However, this move highlights just how far behind other countries in Latin America are in this regard.
While Chile’s new law aligns itself with partners in the OECD, such as Australia, Denmark, and France, whose workweeks are less than 40 hours, other Latin American countries still have a long way to go.
Legal Workweek Range in Latin America
Until the past decade, only Ecuador and Venezuela had a legal workweek of 40 hours in the region, while Brazil, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, and Guatemala were in the range between 42 and 45 hours. Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay had a workweek of 48 hours.
In terms of maximum hours that people can legally work per week under extraordinary circumstances for specific reasons, Brazil and Venezuela allow up to 48 hours, while Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, and Uruguay range between 49 and 59 hours. In Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Honduras, the maximum is 60 hours or more, and in El Salvador and Peru, there is no limit.
Although national laws allow for these maximums, the regional average is 39.9 hours, with male workers averaging 44.9 hours a week and women averaging 36.3 hours a week. These figures are slightly more than in Western Europe, North America, and Africa, but less than in the Arab world, the Pacific region, and Asia.
There has been some progress in reducing workweeks for specific groups, such as domestic workers. After legislation was put in place to equate the workweeks of domestic workers with other workers, the average workweek for women in this sector decreased by more than five hours.
As the world moves towards reducing workweeks, Latin America has some catching up to do. Although recent changes in Chile are a step in the right direction, it is clear that legislation in the region needs to be reviewed to improve quality of life for workers and families.
Long working hours and telework: Health implications and disparities
Long working hours are taking a toll on the health of workers worldwide, according to a study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO). The study suggests that around 750,000 workers die every year due to prolonged working hours, especially those who work more than 55 hours per week. Stroke and ischemic heart disease are among the most common ailments associated with prolonged stress caused by long working hours.
María Neira, Director of the WHO’s Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, warned that it’s time for everyone to realize that working for long hours can lead to premature death. The study showed that in 2016 alone, 398,000 workers died worldwide from stroke and 347,000 from ischemic heart disease.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the trend of teleworking, which has been adopted by around 23 million workers in Latin America and the Caribbean. However, this trend is mostly benefiting formal wage-earners with a high level of education and stable jobs in professional and administrative occupations. Informal sector and self-employed workers, young people, lower-income workers, and women, who have more family responsibilities, have limited access to telework.
Teleworking may lead to longer working hours, says ILO expert
While teleworking offers some autonomy to workers in deciding how to organize their workday, it may lead to longer working hours, according to ILO Latin America expert Andrés Marinakis. Several studies have found that teleworkers tend to work longer than usual, and the boundaries between regular and overtime hours are less clear. This situation is reinforced by the available electronic devices and technology, which allow contact with colleagues and supervisors at any time and place, extending the workday beyond what is usual.
Marinakis stressed the need to establish a period of disconnection that gives workers effective rest, especially considering that teleworking is likely to persist even after the pandemic. The disparity in access to telework also needs to be addressed, ensuring that it benefits all workers, regardless of their occupation, income level, or gender.
The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the need for telework as a means of reducing the spread of the virus in the workplace. However, the lack of clear boundaries between work and personal life has led to concerns about the impact on mental health and work-life balance. Many workers have reported feeling more stressed and burned out due to the blurring of lines between work and personal time.
To address these concerns, the ILO has recommended that employers establish clear guidelines and policies around telework, including setting expectations for work hours, defining periods of rest and disconnection, and providing adequate support and resources for mental health and well-being. Additionally, governments have a role to play in ensuring that workers have access to necessary technology and infrastructure to enable telework, and that regulations are in place to protect workers’ rights and ensure fair compensation.
Telework: A Booming Trend During the Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a significant shift towards telework. The trend has gained popularity worldwide, with up to 23 million workers in Latin America and the Caribbean now working remotely. Telework has mainly benefited formal wage-earners with a high level of education, stable jobs, and professional and administrative occupations. However, informal sector workers, self-employed individuals, young people, less skilled workers, lower-income workers, and women have had limited access to telework due to various reasons.
The Challenge of Maintaining a Work-Life Balancing Telework
Telework has brought about some advantages, such as providing workers with more autonomy in organizing their workday and being evaluated based on results rather than working hours. However, the blurred boundaries between regular and overtime hours are concerning. Studies have shown that teleworkers tend to work longer than usual, and with the availability of electronic devices and technology, contact with colleagues and supervisors is possible at any time and place, extending the workday beyond normal hours. This makes it necessary to establish a period of disconnection to give workers an effective rest.
Artificial Intelligence: The Other Face of the Coin
While reducing working hours is essential, labor activists like Francisco Iturraspe warn about the impact of artificial intelligence on employment. He argues that AI can significantly reduce employment opportunities and make 40 hours a week seem like an enormous amount of work. He also contends that investing in technology reduces the cost of producing goods and services, which could lead to a reduction in the workforce needed to produce and distribute these products. However, the reduction in working hours could provide working human beings with new ways of coping with life. The quest to reduce the workday walks along a razor’s edge, balancing technological development and its impact on employment with the need for rest and a work-life balance.
The debate over reducing working hours is a complex and multifaceted issue, with both positive and negative consequences. On one hand, working long hours has been linked to negative health outcomes, including premature death. On the other hand, advancements in technology and automation may eventually lead to a reduction in the workforce needed to produce and distribute goods and services. In this context, reducing working hours may provide a way for workers to better balance their work and personal lives. However, the challenge is to strike a balance between reducing working hours to improve well-being and maintaining economic growth. It is important for policymakers, employers, and employees to work together to find a sustainable solution that benefits everyone.