Four working days a week: Is this what Egypt needs?

19-08-2018 12:29 PM

Youssef Sidhom

Problems on hold

It is an inescapable fact that Egypt is today in the throes of a laborious struggle to emerge out of a dark tunnel of quandaries on the economic, social, education, health and other fronts. Bold reform and development policies are being adopted; they act as the bitter medicine that can alone cure our ailments. These policies require hard, relentless work and huge sacrifice to cross over to the phase of reaping the fruit, whether by the current or coming generations.

Talk of hard, arduous, relentless work brings to mind peoples who suffered natural disasters or man-made catastrophes such as wars, and were left ruined and devastated. Yet these peoples defied the wreck and ruin, toiled ruthlessly and endured horrors to rebuild their nations and create a better future for them and their children. They worked day and night, taking no days off, to achieve what was needed. They paid the reform and development bill in full until they attained stability, then on to prosperity and progress.

Are not we in Egypt going through this same predicament, witnessing the same challenges and difficulties? Are we not building our country, developing and upgrading infrastructure, facilities and services that have crumbled over the years? Are we not implementing reform and development policies and plans in order to promote agriculture, industry and trade, boost exports, control imports, encourage new investments, and create job opportunities? Does not this require serious collaboration in hard, arduous, relentless work, and dear sacrifices in order to reach our aim? Can this in any way be reconciled with reducing working hours or multiplying days off?

Earlier this month, news circulated that the Prime Minister had ordered the formation of an expert committee to study the feasibility of reducing the workweek of State apparatuses from five to four days. The news went viral and controversy over the matter seared; some hailed the idea of reducing the workweek, others denounced it, and others still called on sounding the opinion of the public on this score. Everyone talked about the gains and losses entailed, taking it as self-evident that any move would not affect salaries; it was unthinkable that they would be reduced to correspond to shorter working hours. All this before the committee was done with its work or pronounced any decisions.

It is not my intention to anticipate the decision of the Cabinet committee which might very well end up only recommending the revision of work days of particular calibres of workers in specific institutions without affecting the workweek in general, and for the sake of achieving particular objectives which I fail to see. What concerns me is the message we relay to the man in the street. I believe we must firmly root the concept of the immeasurable value of work, exertion and struggle. We must put an end to the disgraceful unwritten work code that many public servants adopt, a code that results in their loitering all day, achieving no more than two hours worth of work. We are in dire need to regulate the current work system and subject it to monitoring and accountability. We must also link pay to production instead of handing out more privileges that only serve to pamper and further corrupt the non-productive and non-deserving.

Some think that reducing working days would ease the burden on public transport and traffic, and would reduce the costs of operating governmental premises. They claim that the working hours of the fifth day should spill over onto the four remaining working days. To those I say: if we are striving to increase actual productivity from two to seven or eight hours per day as was originally intended, how can we plan to increase it to nine or ten working hours a day? Is the Egyptian employee or worker, who currently works so little, fit to do so or are we just fooling ourselves?

Others insist that some countries have successfully adopted a system of four working days a week. To those I say: these countries must have reached an enviable standard of living and sufficient prosperity to allow that. But I know that the system of reduced office hours is not the general scheme of things in any country; it is a special system that applies to certain workers in specific institutions, whose work highly depends on advanced technology, computers and electronic networks, which allows part of the work to be done from home. In all cases, we must realise that such measures do not apply to us in Egypt.
We are still in dire need for more working hours and days, and fewer holidays, in order to overcome the huge challenges we face and see our Egypt through to a better future.
Watani International
19 August 2018

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