Is T&T ready for a four-day workweek? ECA weighs in on conversation

Is T&T ready for a four-day workweek? ECA weighs in on conversation

Despite the success of recent trials internationally, and even one in the local context, the Employers’ Consultative Association (ECA) remains uncertain that T&T’s economy is ready to embrace a shift away from the traditional five-day workweek.

Port-of-Spain-based FORM Architects Ltd recently completed a five-year trial of the shorter workweek model which prevailed even throughout the pandemic. The company said the end result was an increase in productivity and a better work-life balance.

A large-scale four-day workweek (with no decrease in pay) trial coordinated by non-profit 4 Day Week Global saw participation from employers in the United States, Australia, Ireland and other countries. Employers reported greater productivity and happier workers, among some of the positives out of the trial.

The ECA said it isn’t against exploring alternative work models but stressed the need for careful consideration and robust trials specific to the local context before moving away from the conventional five-day workweek.

“Any measures must be feasible for employers and adhere to the principles of Decent Work and proper industrial relations practice. Addressing underlying structural issues and engaging in tripartite consultation are crucial steps in this effort,” the Association said in response to a Loop News query.

The organisation said there are many factors that must be considered when looking at these international studies, namely that the trials have been done within developed economies which often have high productivity rankings.

“Moreover, we must remember that a country’s ability to drive productivity growth, innovation and competitiveness extends beyond a simple adjustment of working hours.

Indeed, there must be an enabling business environment with an ecosystem of labour legislation and policies, efficient institutions, and quality education and training that contribute to this effort.

Additionally, productivity has many underlying dynamics some of which are grounded in the more implicit elements of a society such as its norms and cultural values,” the Association said.

The ECA noted that one of the strongest arguments in support of the shorter workweek is that it enhances human well-being and their ability to work. But, the organisation said there are more variables that impact workers’ health and productivity.

The Association referenced a 2024 study by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean which found that 69 per cent of respondents said that traffic congestion affected their physical health while 64 per cent reported experiencing stress each workday due to traffic congestion.

This study also highlighted that 33 days per year, the equivalent of a month, is lost due to traffic congestion.

“It is imperative that we first address issues like these before we can even engage in conversations on a reduced workweek, which in on itself does not necessarily guarantee a serious reduction in traffic congestions as the working population may still need to be on the road five days a week for other activities, such as transporting children to and from school,” the ECA said.

As enticing as a four-day workweek sounds, the Association said it foresees challenges to its implementation across some sectors of the economy.

The organisation pinpointed manufacturing, energy and support services among the areas where a shorter workweek wouldn’t be feasible as continuous operations are essential to their business model.

The Association explained: “From a regulatory perspective, a wide implementation of a four-day work week would require careful consideration of labour laws, regulations and statutory obligations in Trinidad and Tobago. Adjustments to contracts, wage and overtime calculations, leave accrual, as well as the impact on hourly and daily paid workers must also be considered.”

The ECA added that robust social dialogue is required among all stakeholders as the conversations on other modalities of work evolves.

To this end, the organisation acknowledged that various non-traditional forms of work have grown in popularity over the years.

The Association reported that a recent survey of its membership found that 71 per cent of companies have adopted remote work (fully remote and/or hybrid) arrangements within their organisations.

The ECA said remote-work and flexi-time are other popular modes of work and if implemented correctly, can positively impact work-life balance.

The organisation acknowledged that remote work can aid with reducing the physical and mental health stressors associated with travel, and save on time spent in traffic.

At the same time, the Association said non-traditional forms of work should not be viewed as the solution to all issues when there remain underlying problems that can still hamper productivity and Decent Work.

The ECA stressed the need for proper tripartite consultation on any such measure.

  • PublishedMay 28, 2024

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