Friday, 1 March, 2024

Limiting Working Hours


Aamod Dahal

People have numerous financial needs. They require money to fulfil their needs. Works allow them to eke out livelihoods that support their individual and family needs. Every capable adult should seek employment or engage in some kind of business. Jobs are necessary but when one works for long hours without taking proper rest, it can degrade their efficiency as well as their mental and physical health, which cannot remain sound for a long period. Many Nepalese workers are facing this common problem today.

Existing Scenario
This article simply includes a few professions to comprehend the current scenario. Doctors are the most in-demand profession in Nepal. Doctors are still in short supply in several places of Nepal including villages and remote districts. Doctors that specialize in a certain field are scarce in numbers in the big cities, even the capital city is not an exception. Many doctors work in a variety of settings, including government hospitals, private hospitals, and clinics. One reason is financial, while another is patient health emergencies. In the government hospital, there is a high volume of patients, but there is a scarcity of medical personnel.

In a public hospital that provides maternity care, a small number of doctors are tasked with performing caesarean deliveries for an average of 8-9 pregnant women a day. Similarly, few surgeons handle numerous major operation cases in many renounced public and private hospitals. Despite a large number of patients, most hospital administrators have been reluctant to recruit additional medical personnel. When a single doctor handles a large number of cases without taking a break, doctors don't have time to research the medical histories of their patients in-depth, patients don't receive sufficient treatment, and surgical errors could be common.

Teachers are vital for shaping the knowledge base of students and creating a prosperous society, but they are underpaid. The workload of teachers needs to be set in such a way that they can carry on their regular classes, stay updated with the contemporary issues in their related field while also having time to conduct research.

However, the existing scenario is that most of the teachers works in various institutions and teaches for several hours each day. They work continuously from morning till the evening taking a total of 9-10 classes. Back pain, throat and voice problems, and physical weakness can occur when a teacher works in the classroom for an extended period. At the same time, continuous engagement in teaching alone have made them difficult to keep up to date with the emerging knowledge and ideas in the related fields, and they are unable to impart/deliver new innovative concepts to students. Students need individual attention and care, and the teacher's role is critical in this regard.

More than 20,000 people have obtained the license of the advocate in Nepal. Few lawyers are doing overwork while many of them are unable to find work. A small number of well-known lawyers handle a huge number of cases. They work for long hours to prepare the cases. There are several pieces of evidence of a victim losing a case due to procedural errors. There is a need to limit the number of cases that a lawyer can undertake at a time. Hearings are frequently postponed because the lawyer did not have enough time to study and prepare cases. Limiting the number of cases, a lawyer can take at a time also helps to evenly divide work among other capable lawyers.

Many local bus drivers and conductors are observed to begin driving as early as 5 am and continue until 7 or 8 pm, late in the evening. Whether or not they locate passengers, they must drive their vehicle. They are exposed to air pollution and exhausted by loud sounds throughout their duty hours.

They must deal with people of various behaviours/attitudes. They often eat during odd hours and the food outside is unhygienic and poor in nutrition. We find many employees in the public transportation sector rude, and this is due to overwork, improper food habits, and other work-related difficulties. Overwork can cause drivers to fall asleep or become ignorant of the circumstances, resulting in accidents. This regulation is vital for passenger safety and to reduce the rising prevalence of traffic accidents.

Entrepreneurs and self-employed people work long hours in a variety of businesses. They open their shop from morning to evening, fearing that if they take a break, their customers will go to the next shop and they will lose business.Such businesses must work together to determine when to close and when to open their businesses. Barbers have started closing their shops on the last Thursday of a month. When everyone closes their shop, no one loses their customer. And they get time to relax and spend time with their family, friends and relatives.

Labor Act of Nepal, 2017 under Section 28 has made a provision that no employer shall employ labourers to work more than eight hours a day and forty-eight hours a week. The labourers shall be provided with half an hour's rest after five hours of continuous work. Under some special conditions, the employer can request labourers to work for up to four hours a day and twenty-four hours a week additional time and at the same time, additional remuneration has to be paid.

The provisions of the labour act apply primarily to industrial labour and a few other types of labour, but they do not apply to many self-employed and professional jobs. In the case of industries, many workers have complained that their employers force them to work for more than 8 hours per day and do not compensate them accordingly. Many industries compel workers to work on public holidays despite giving no additional financial benefit. The work hour requirement in labour legislation has yet to be implemented, and the regulating apparatus appears to be inactive and ineffective.

According to a flight operation requirement (aeroplane) set aside by Nepal's civil aviation authority, a pilot engaged in a single pilot operation may work for a maximum of 10 hours every 24 hours. This clause was essential since there are increased chances of accidents if a pilot falls asleep or becomes weak due to overwork.

Dentsu, a Japanese advertising corporation, was fined 500,000 Yen by a Tokyo court in 2017 for breaking labour regulations by forcing employees to work excessive overtime. Working hours are strictly regulated in France, with a maximum of 35 hours per week. In 2015, the French Red Cross was fined €11 million for having overworked employees. Overwork is a long-standing practice in the United States. State health inspectors in the United States fined Brooklyn Hospital Center $14,000 for overworking young doctors enrolled in its residency training program in 1998.

People might think that it's their right to determine how many hours they can work. Some conflicts may arise. This law is for promoting social and individual well-being. The limit in a working hour is for people's well being. So, they should not consider it as a violation of their right to work.

Limiting working hours may make human resources scarce in certain technical fields for the time being. This will increase the cost of service on the side of vendors. This might result in price hikes in the market. Where there is no alternative manpower available it's difficult to manage exact working hours.

As in the case of Nepal, regulatory mechanisms are weak and absent in many fields. When such a mechanism is absent, there is a fear that this law will also get limited to paper and fails to achieve its objective.
There is an imminent need to enact legislation that determines working hours for each profession. On one side it gives statutory rest to the employed people. Rest is necessary for sound physical and mental health. People can give more time to family. Problems like depression, frustration are drastically increasing the society. In such circumstances, balanced working hours and proper rest will help many to heal/overcome such problems resulting from continuous hard work.

Limiting working hours creates more job opportunities. More people can find a job easily in the market. Because of the limit in working hours, employers are compelled to hire a new employee as they need to provide leaves to the existing employees.
There are some beneficial aspects of limiting working hours that helps in empowerment and knowledge transfer. Many technical fields are reliant on few people. When there is a limit in working hours more human resources is necessary to balance the cycle of service delivery and for that, more skilled manpower is required. So, existing manpower starts to transfer their knowledge.

Effective Implementation
Proper rest helps to boost creativity as people get time to think and review their work. For example, when a teacher gets time to take a rest, they can think about creative ways and methods of teaching. Thus, proper rest helps to bring quality and efficiency to work. When a doctor gets enough rest, then they can concentrate more while providing medical treatment. Eventually, cases of medical negligence and recklessness decrease.
With global reference, Nepal also needs to frame clear laws and policies in each field regarding working hours. Effective implementation of such laws and policies can have a direct positive relation with the physical and mental health of workers as well as the quality of work. 

(Dahal is a law officer at the Gandaki Province Chief's office. )