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Lifestyle
Is the Four-Day Workweek Proposal Feasible?
The proposal of a four-day weekday stirs up a lot of debate
 NO.31 AUGUST 2, 2018

In a recent report on Chinese people's leisure time, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), a leading think tank for the Chinese Government, proposed a four-day, 36-hour workweek for employees in China, to be mostly implemented by 2030.

According to the proposal, China should speed up the implementation of the paid leave system throughout 2020 to 2025 and try out the shorter workweek system in large and medium-sized state-owned enterprises in the east of the country. From 2025 on, the new system can be pushed to more industries and sectors in central and eastern parts of the country. From 2030, the four-day workweek can be implemented throughout the country.

Since it came out, the proposal has stirred up a lot of debate among the public. Some applaud the idea, while others think it's unrealistic.

Too good to be true 

He Yong (www.sohu.com): To implement a four-day, 36-hour workweek is undoubtedly good news for most Chinese. Compared with the current five-day system, it reduces working time by four hours a week, giving employees more time to rest. More importantly, we will have a three-day weekend which will enable us to travel around without having to wait for the crowded public holidays.

In 1995, China put into practice the five-day workweek system where every employee was supposed to enjoy a two-day weekend. However, over the past 20 years, not all workers have been able to rest two days a week, and some even have only one day off per week.

In addition, although China began to implement the paid leave system in 2008, only a limited portion of employees are able to benefit from it. A survey of 2,552 workers by the Tourism Research Center of the CASS showed that 40.1 percent of the respondents had no paid leave, while 4.1 percent of them did have access to a paid leave, but didn't have time to enjoy it. Another 18.8 percent of the respondents had a paid leave, could potentially enjoy it, but could not arrange it by themselves. Only 31.3 percent had a paid leave that they could really enjoy.

The reality is that working overtime without extra pay has taken hold in China. According to a 2017 survey released by Zhaopin.com, a leading recruitment website in China, about 85 percent of Chinese office employees worked overtime every week. In addition, 21.3 percent worked five to 10 hours of overtime a week; about 33.3 percent had no vacation time; and 25.5 percent had an annual vacation of less than five days.

It's basically a joke to talk about the implementation of a four-day workweek system when a two-day off workweek and a paid leave system are still empty promises. To implement the four-day workweek system, we should first fix existing problems.

Putting it in place 

Wu Lichuan (Modern Express): It's been 23 years since China started the five-day workweek system, and a change to shorten the weekly work time should be something to celebrate. However, more people are pessimistic about the proposal than optimistic. Some argue that even the five-day workweek regulation has not been fully implemented in China, let alone the four-day idea. We have to admit that this is true in some sectors and companies.

However, it must be pointed out that the CASS report does not focus on the protection of workers' legitimate rights but attempts to inform society in an appropriate way that Chinese workers also have the right to work four days and rest three days a week.

Why is the proposal doubted by so many people? To a large extent, it's because even the five-day workweek is not yet fully and evenly implemented across Chinese society. However, the failure of the current system in some sectors and regions should not be used to justify ridicule of the CASS's new workweek proposal. Why can't society be more positive to a progressive system design, rather than ridiculing and criticizing it?

Shang Fan (www.rednet.cn): The leisure time of Chinese workers—which reportedly is only half of that of their peers in developed countries—is obviously insufficient. It is imperative to increase their leisure time and improve their quality of life. China's economy and society have made great progress in the past four decades, which has already laid a solid foundation for a four-day workweek.

The weekly labor time will only be reduced by four hours compared to the current five-day workweek if the new system is launched. A higher productivity in the future means that a four-day workweek will not reduce social wealth, nor will it restrict the progress of social development, which in turn would undermine the public's quality of life. Therefore, the proposal should be cheered by society.

Furthermore, more free time for the public will prove to be a boon for the tourism industry and stimulate consumer spending.

At present, the public is mostly indifferent toward the CASS's proposal and even question its feasibility. The reason is that for some average workers, two days or even one day off a week is still a nonstarter, never mind three days off per week.

We should fuel the public's passion for a better future life. Relevant authorities should work hard to understand average working conditions and protect worker's legitimate rights, including the right to enjoy two days off a week.

At the same time, the government has a lot of work to do to alleviate ordinary people's anxiety about their future lives so that they will not reject vacation time when they have the chance to enjoy it. This includes curbing housing price hikes, cutting tax burdens and raising people's incomes so as to create favorable conditions for the implementation of the four-day workweek system.

As a developing country, China needs its population to work hard to create more social wealth. But after 40 years of rapid growth, it's equally important for it to enhance people's quality of life by granting them more leisure time to do what they are really interested in. Although the public seems to be indifferent toward the four-day workweek proposal, they are passionate about an extended weekend in their hearts.

Uncertainties 

Bi Shicheng (The Beijing News): Objectively speaking, the four-day workweek proposal is logical, as society's productivity is on the rise. Gradually, people will have more free time for leisure or vacation. Looking back on the past three decades, we find the working week keeps shrinking, from six days to five and a half to the current five days.

However, in the upcoming 12 years leading up to 2030, we are expecting a huge transformation different from what the previous industrial revolutions have brought about: the impact of information technology, artificial intelligence and a capital-driven economy. These forces are reshaping the world's labor patterns. As a result, we may have to face the possibility of a lot of surplus labor in the future.

Without proper interference ahead of time, the combination of new technology and capital will surely push human beings to an icy reality: Synthetic intelligence will replace both white- and blue-collar human workers. The prospect of a large number of people having no jobs is troublesome. At that point, the public's focus will not be on whether they have a four-day or five-day workweek, but whether they still have work to do.

It's argued by some scholars that at that time, the nature of work will change. Human workers will shift to tasks that human beings are more capable of doing well than robots.

However, this shift will not come naturally. There must be forward-looking thinking and preparations for an economic ecosystem that accommodates human beings and robots in a harmonious environment.

The CASS report is based on the intention of extending time for leisure. This is far from enough. We must look at the topic against a broader context, taking into consideration not only the right to leisure but also the right to work.

Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo 

Comments to dingying@bjreview.com 

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