12-hr workday: What works and what doesn’t

Photo: Mint
Photo: Mint

Summary

India wishes to become a global manufacturing hub like China. That calls for reforming archaic labour laws

Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have allowed 12-hour workdays for factories, increasing an eight-hour cap. Other Indian states may be thinking of following suit. While manufacturers welcome the change, does it work for workers? Mint explains:

What’s the thinking behind the move ?

India wishes to become a global manufacturing hub like China. That calls for reforming archaic labour laws. States with a substantial manufacturing base now want to retain their edge—they want to attract multinational cos by allowing night shifts for women and additional work hours. However, a 12-hour workday doesn’t mean Indian workers will work more over a week. “The overall work hours in the week remain capped at 48, which means a four-day week against an earlier five or six," said Rituparna Chakraborty, co-founder and executive director of TeamLease Services, a staffing firm.

How will it benefit manufacturing?

Factories will have two shifts a day, which would mean a cost-efficient working model—shift changes take time and fewer shifts imply savings on time. Fewer breaks could also mean higher productivity. Sanket Jain, partner at Pioneer Legal, which specializes in employment law, said only certain manufacturing plants will successfully make the transition without impacting workers. The electronics and chemical sectors are better regulated; as are large factories. It is not clear how smaller factories will implement the change. Absenteeism (due to longer working hours) is a potential downside.

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Photo: Bloomberg

What could be the target talent pool?

Migrant workers are the largest talent pool in manufacturing. Typically, factories work for eight hours every day for six days. The migrant workers on contract can look for a second job, because it’s a four-day week. While their earnings can jump in such a scenario, stretched work hours could lead to labour unrest. Companies will need to reconsider break hours and overtime.

What could be the impact on women?

While extended hours will be offered to women, recruiters say it may get hard to hire them. “Society doesn’t change overnight. There is resistance regarding overtime and night shifts," said Aditya Narayan Mishra, CEO of CIEL HR Services, a staffing firm. As it is, female dropouts have increased from both corporate offices and factories, after two years of the covid-19 pandemic. Factories have been making efforts to recruit women from tier 2 and 3 cities but new shift timings could throw a spanner in the works.

What can we learn from China?

China pioneered long work hours, and overtime became popular across tech, startups and manufacturing companies. Called the ‘996’ work culture, employees were pushed to work from 9am to 9pm for six days a week (72 hours). Many said this created a competitive advantage for China. However, after protests in 2019, the Supreme People’s Court in August 2021 said the overtime practice was illegal. It also published guidelines on what constituted overtime work.

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