We have read several articles across media stating that with the advent of the new labour codes, the four-day workweek might become a reality soon in India.
Further, it is also understood by many that under the new labour codes, employees will have an option to work only for four days a week and take the remaining three days as an off (i.e., paid weekly off) as opposed to the present working conditions, wherein one has to work for five days with two days as weekly off. Though the concept of a four-day workweek might sound exciting, however, is it possible to implement the same with the new labour codes or as rules as they stand today? More accurately, is it possible to work four days a week while working the same number of hours as a regular five or six-day week?
Present Working Conditions under the Shops and Commercial Establishment Act
In a situation where a company is registered under the Shops and Commercial Establishment Act (S&CE) of the respective state, under such circumstances, the provisions about hours of work, overtime wages and weekly off of the respective state’s S&CE Act would be applicable.
For instance, under the Karnataka Shops and Establishment Act, no adult employee would be required to work beyond 9 hours on any day (including one hour of interval after every five hours) and forty-eight hours in any week. In case of the working hours exceeding the stipulated duration by two hours, a worker would be entitled to overtime wages of up to two hours a day as the spread over (total working hours including break and overtime) cannot exceed twelve hours a day. Further, every adult employee is entitled to one day as a weekly off, in cases where the weekly off is one and a half days in a week, the same shall continue. Cumulatively it would be a five- or six-day work week with either one and a half or two days as weekly off.
Present Working Conditions under the Factories Act
Whereas in the case of a company registered under the Factories Act, it is stated that no adult worker shall be allowed to work for more than nine hours on any day and forty-eight hours in any week.
A plain reading of the above shows that if a worker is allowed to work for nine hours in a day, for five days a week and half a day or three hours on the sixth day. In such cases, the requirement of daily and weekly threshold limit of working hours prescribed under both the legislations would be complied with, and there would be no question of payment of any overtime wages.
However, when the employees are called upon to work on six days of the week, then the hours of work should not exceed forty-eight hours in any week. If the working hours exceed 48 in a week or 9 hours a day, the workers are eligible for overtime pay at the rate of twice the ordinary wages.
Working conditions under the New Labour Codes
The working conditions of a company (i.e., the provisions with respect to hours of work which would apply to all companies irrespective of whether the establishment is registered under the S&CE Act or Factories Act) is governed under the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020 (‘OSH Code’). According to the provisions of the OSH Code, no worker shall be required to work for more than eight hours in a day (excluding half an hour of interval after every 5 hours) and forty-eight hours in any week. The spread over shall not be for more than twelve hours a day including the intervals for rest.
Moreover, no employee shall be allowed to work in an establishment for more than six days in any one week. This means an employee would be required to work for either five or six days at eight hours per day in a week with one or two days off as a weekly off. In the event, the worker exceeds the above-mentioned working hours, he or she shall be entitled to overtime wages up to a limit of three hours per day.
The Way Forward
With working hours being eight hours a day and forty-eight hours a week, and overtime limited to one hundred and twenty-five hours per quarter, it is impossible to achieve a four-day work week without being paid overtime for the additional hours of work or by reducing the hours of work by the company.
Therefore, whether a company is registered under the S&CE Act or under the Factories Act, there is no way one is going to have a four-day work week as the law stands today or under new labour codes unless one is paid overtime upon exceeding the stipulated working hours for the day (This would work only for a limited extent as the overtime limit is one twenty-five hours per quarter in Karnataka) or with the company reducing working hours in a week (i.e., below the statutory limit) as a matter of policy or the government should bring about an amendment to the provisions of the OSH Code to achieve a four-day workweek.
Many countries such as Spain, Japan, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland and Iceland have already implemented the four-day workweek on an experimental basis. This has however been done by reducing the number of weekly working hours. Nothing in the law in India prevents an employer from reducing the number of working hours in the week, and thereby having a four-day work week. In India, the government may try and bring about an appropriate notification to explore the option of a four-day workweek on an experimental and voluntary basis.