Indian workers suffer from work-life balance mismatch: ILO report

The report has recommended that countries should make use of the experience they developed with working-time reduction and flexibility during the COVID-19 crisis

Getty Images
Getty Images

Gyan Pathak

Indian workers are suffering much from work-life balance mismatch and the South Asian workers have the longest working hours compared to any other region of the world. This has been revealed in the first ever report on ‘Working Time and Work-life Balance Around the World’ released by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Working hours for workers in developing countries including India have been longer since 1950s, the decade before which there is no data. In India, the working hours have been on the increase since 1970s.

The average number of work hours in Southern Asia is highest in the world at 49 hours a week, as against the world average of 43.9. Working hours for men in this region is even higher at 51.5 as against the world average of 46.2. For women of Southern Asia, the working hours are 40.8, as against the world average of 40.5.

From a global sectoral perspective, the sectors with the longest weekly hours of work in 2019 were wholesale and retail trade which was 49.1 hours. The working hours for transport and communications was 48.2, and manufacturing 47.6.

The sectors with the shortest weekly hours of work were agriculture (37.9 hours), education (39.3 hours) and health services (39.8 hours), although it seems likely that the extreme demands on the health services sector arising from the COVID-19 pandemic would have substantially increased average hours of work in that sector.

The objective mismatch rate in India is 26.3 per cent as per the national definition as against 32.5 per cent as per the ILO definition. As per the national definition, underemployment is 9.8 per cent and overemployment is 16.5 per cent as against 18.1 and 14.4 per percent respectively as per ILO’s definition. The combined average underemployment rate is 14 per cent for the country.

As per the subjective measure of underemployment and overemployment, when measured by the question of wanting to work more hours for more income, rates of underemployment are generally far higher in all countries and areas.

Countries or areas with higher time-related underemployment include South Africa, Georgia, Mexico and Lithuania, at more than 60 per cent, and the Russian Federation and Suriname followed by India and Croatia, with more than 50 per cent workers in those countries seeking more hours to increase their earnings.

The total subjective working-time mismatch rates are the highest in Mexico, South Africa, Georgia, Philippines, the Russian Federation, Suriname and Lithuania. They are also slightly elevated in India, Croatia and Slovakia, where the mismatch rate is still more than 50 per cent of the workforce, the study has revealed.

Such high rates are attributable to relatively higher underemployment. The total subjective mismatch in India is 57 per cent, for underemployed it is 54.3 and for overemployed it is 2.7.

The strongest relative preferences for more money (versus time) are apparent in the lower-to-middle-income and emerging economies, especially in South Africa, Mexico, Suriname, India, and Philippines, as well as in the former communist countries or areas, particularly Georgia, Lithuania, the Russian Federation, Croatia and Slovakia, and to some extent in Poland, Estonia and Hungary as well.

However, subjective underemployment is also notably above average in France and to some extent in the United States.

The report suggests that both underemployment and overemployment are somewhat exacerbated by being a non-employee or self-employed worker, that is, they are tempered by being an employee rather than a non-employee. There are generally higher mismatch rates for self-employed workers relative to employees.

It is a surprising phenomenon since we tend to believe that self-employed had greater control over their working hours.

Globally, 31.1 per cent of employees regularly work more than 48 hours per week, but the proportion is much higher for self-employed workers, at 44.4 per cent.

This general pattern holds across all the major geographic regions of the world, with the sole exception of Africa, where a higher proportion of employees (33.4 per cent) work long hours than self-employed workers (27.7 per cent).

The difference in long hours of work between the two groups appears more muted in regions in which long hours of work are prevalent, such as Asia and the Pacific, where 45.4 per cent of employees have long hours of work compared with 52.8 per cent of self-employed workers.

The pattern even reverses itself in some cases, most notably in Southern Asia, where a much larger proportion of employees (70.3per cent) than self-employed workers (54.2 per cent) regularly work long hours.

Overemployment is expected to be higher among employees, who might have less ability to adjust their own hours downwards than non-employees. This is indeed the case in countries such as India, Austria, Denmark and the United States.

Overall, there is some evidence from certain countries or areas that supports the notion that generated mismatches can be solved by self-employment, but there is even stronger evidence that employee status allows better matching of actual houses of work with preferred hours of work than does self-employment.

As for flexible working hour, the evidence suggests that a lot of work needs to be done. In India, as per a survey, only nearly one out of ten enterprises have used flexible working hours in order to cope with the impact of the pandemic.

The report has recommended greater flexible time for a work-life balance for greater productivity and decent working conditions. There is a need to stick to less than a standard eight-hour day or 40 hour working week, at a time when about one-third of the global workforce is regularly working more than that.

However, while implementing flexible working hours, it cautions that the benefits of some of these flexible working arrangement, such as better family life, may be accompanied by costs including greater gender imbalances and health risks.

The report has also recommended that countries should make use of the experiences they developed with working-time reduction and flexibility during the COVID-19 crisis.

Inclusive short-time work schemes with the highest possible allowances not only maintain employment but also sustain purchasing power and create the possibility of cushioning the effects of economic crises, it said.

(IPA Service)

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