July 25, 2022 Sujeev Shakya

Re-imagining Nepal’s workweek

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Effective June 15, the government decided to revert to a six-day week. It’s not the first time the Nepal government has reversed its decision from a five-day week. Like many government decisions, it was superbly haphazard and confusing. It succumbed to the pressure of people not getting service. Even fuel stations shut along with other essential services. Being shut on Sundays was bound to attract public ire. Despite the recent rollback, Nepal must move to a five-day workweek with proper homework, study and recalibration of working practices. We must organise our schedule to work 40 hours a week and get a much-needed two-day break. Why can’t this be possible for everyone working in Nepal? What do we need to do to ensure that this happens? Indeed, no one size fits all, and the nature of work will mean there will be people working different days of the week, but enjoying a much-needed break from work.

Concept of holiday

The concept of a five-day week is very new in the world. In the industrial United States, it was only in 1926 that Henry Ford introduced a five-day week without a pay cut. And in China, it was only in the last decade of the 20th century that it decided to move to a five-day week. More than 95 percent of the world generally follows a five-day work week, putting in between 40 and 48 hours of work. Even in the Islamic countries, they are reconciling to a two-day break, generally Friday and Saturday, but recently, the United Arab Emirates has moved to a Saturday and Sunday break with an extended hour of lunch time for prayers on Friday.

In Nepal, it was only during Juddha Shumsher’s reign that a Saturday holiday was introduced. Till then, people working in government offices got only “ekadasi” (11th day of the lunar fortnight) off. And after the restoration of multi-party democracy, in trying to be inclusive, Nepal went on to have the highest number of holidays and currently has 31 days, which is still one of the highest numbers in the world. In terms of productivity, despite working six days a week, Nepal’s productivity is low due to short daily working hours. When winter timings are introduced, government offices work only six hours a day or just 35 hours a week, and many organisations follow this low productivity schedule.

At a presentation in Rwanda, when asked about our government’s working hours, they expressed disbelief as Rwanda follows an 8am to 5pm schedule and is off on weekends with only essential services running. Therefore, it is crucial to link the work week with productivity. Like many international organisations, we should follow a five-day, 40-hour week, 9am to 6pm, with an hour’s break for lunch. In my over 30 years of career, this is how it has been, and I would like to recommend everyone to follow this. Like in the hotel, airline or many other industries, it does not mean the two-day break has to be Saturday and Sunday. It is to plan operations to ensure the processes are generally 24/7 or each day of the week, but people work five days a week and take two days off.

Concept of leisure

If you ask an average Nepali how they spend their holiday, the answer would generally be taking care of household chores, but more importantly, managing social visits. While the new generation has taken to outdoor activities like hiking, running, cycling and other sports during the weekend, my memory of holidays for Nepalis (even outside Nepal) are playing cards and indulging in eating and drinking.

Leisure is men-centric, and the concept of holiday and leisure does not consider the growing number of women joining the workforce. At Beed, we ensure that the day after Vijaya Dashami or Bhai Tika is a holiday as it is a day that women team members need a break from their work during the festive days. A two-day weekend is critical for working women as they are increasingly under pressure to juggle work and families.

With nuclear families on the rise and many family members settled abroad, the pressure on working women has increased like never before. At the sessions I conducted during the pandemic on coping mechanisms, women broke down in virtual meetings sharing the pressure of managing online school, online work and household chores during the lockdown. If we have not learned from the pandemic, no other disaster will teach us more.

Government services can go online like in Rwanda; the digital government platform Irembo has made it easy for people to receive government services. Why can’t we apply for our passports, driver’s licence and other government documents online and just be delivered to us? Each ward office that has a computer can be the place to take biometrics and point for the physical interface. Online payments and other services make it easier and eliminate the need for physical offices.

We require a more forward-thinking approach, looking at how the workspace will be in the future, what services people will need, and how they will be delivered. Hopefully, like that intelligent thinking unknown bureaucrat who pushed passports to be issued from districts and changed Nepal’s world of migration and remittances, there will be someone who will bring about much-needed rules on how Nepalis will work. 

Read the article on The Kathmandu Post: https://tkpo.st/3ynvzet