Compressed work week: misguided policy for workers amidst fuel crisis

March 18, 2022

The Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development or IOHSAD calls on the government to directly address the reasons for the continuous oil price hikes instead of pushing for the implementation of a compressed work week that can be detrimental to workers’ health and safety. This work scheme passes the burden of surviving this crisis to the backs of workers while the government turns away from the responsibility of mitigating, or ending, the dreadful effects of oil deregulation on people’s lives.

Long working hours kill workers! Longer working hours prolong exposures to hazards at work, and this increases the risk for work-related injuries and diseases [1,2]. There is a time-dependent increase in the risk for accidents, injuries, falls, infections, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases beyond the standard working hours [3]. Twelve-hour workdays increase the risk for injuries and accidents by 37%, and this risk increases with overtime and an extended work week [4].

The eight-hour workday as a workers’ right and labor standard was a result of workers’ arduous struggle to improve working conditions. Exhausted by, and sick and dying from, long working hours, labor unions in the late 19th century made the eight-hour workday as their central demand to the government and employers. Imposing a workday with ten or more hours through the “compressed workweek” scheme is oppressive to workers and erases the gains of their struggles for humane working conditions.

The eight-hour workday was won through persistent collective action of workers’ unions and organizations since the Industrial Revolution, and was enshrined as a landmark convention of the International Labor Organization (ILO)[5]. The widespread unrest emanating from this movement was “so great that the peace and harmony of the world are imperiled,” prompting nothing less than the creation of the ILO to address this issue with urgency. While still not observed by a number of ILO member-states, the eight-hour workday allowed workers in most of the world to have time for rest, work and recreation. A compressed workweek is a rollback of this precious victory of the workers’ movement.

Working for 10 hours per day or 50 hours per week leads to decreased sleeping time which in return produces poor sleep quality, fatigue, and increased risk for heart disease and stroke [6]. The latest research of the World Health Organization and ILO reveals that working for more than 55 hours per week has led to 350,000 deaths from ischemic heart disease and 400,000 deaths from stroke in 2016[7]. This is now recognized as the occupational risk factor with the largest attributable disease burden based on Global Comparative Risk Assessment. With the Philippines’ Labor Code of 1974 allowing for 48 hours of work per week and the possibility of mandating workers to have a two-hour overtime, workers will need to work for 12-14 hours per day in a 4-day work week, putting them at risk for these complications.

The consequences of longer working hours are not worth the perceived benefits. Advocates of a compressed work week claim a more flexible schedule with more rest days resulting in increased worker productivity and less business costs [8,9]. Pilot trials in Microsoft Japan and Perpetual Guardian Australia were a success in increasing worker retention and satisfaction [10,11]. Better work-life balance from completing errands, spending time with family and re-discovering hobbies to improving skills at work were also noted [12]. These, however, came at a price: Workers reported increased stress and pressure from trying to complete their usual tasks in a shorter period of time and decreased focus at the eighth hour of work [8,12]. For those with children, staying later meant less time spent with them before bedtime [13]. Filipino workers face conditions that are more dire than those experienced by the workers in these studies: pay cuts, “no work, no pay” schemes and nearly impossible output targets — and less working days will mean less pay with more workload.

In 2018, almost 9 million Filipinos worked an extra 48 hours per week to meet family expenses [14]. The number comprised 21.7% of those employed and surpassed the previous number in 2015, despite calls for just and humane working conditions [15]. Amidst the rising costs of basic necessities, the measly assistance of 200 PhP provided by the Duterte government to each family per month [16], the least number of wage hikes since the Marcos administration [17], and the slow review process of the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Boards[18], our workers are in need of assistance now.

The suspension of the excise tax on oil and petroleum products and the unbundling of petroleum prices have been suggested by people’s lawyer and senatoriable Atty. Neri Colmenares [19]. This was also echoed by Vice President Leni Robredo’s call for the legislature to hold a special session for the government to reduce taxes, provide financial assistance to affected drivers, and implement service contracting of drivers in order to secure their earnings [20]. Direct solutions have been proposed to resolve this crisis in the short-term but the Duterte government’s political will to accomplish these concrete steps is missing.

Only a comprehensive response focused on raising wages, decreasing the cost of basic necessities, improving transportation, and providing adequate financial support will allow our workers to tide over this crisis. Left unaddressed, workers’ issues will leave workers and the Filipino people suffering.

[1] Occupational Safety and Health Administration (n.d.) Long work hours, extended or irregular shifts, and worker fatigue. Retrievedfrom
[2 ] Salminen, Simo. (2016). Long Working Hours and Shift Work as Risk Factors for Occupational Injury. The Ergonomics Open Journal. 9. 15-26. 10.2174/1875934301609010015.
[3] Ervasti, J., Pentti, J., Nyberg, S., Shipley, M., Leineweber, C., Sorensen, J., et al (2021): Long working hours and risk of 50 health conditions and mortality outcomes: a multicohort study in four European countries. The Lancet Regional Health Europe.
[4] Dembe AE, Erickson JB, Delbos RG, et al (2005). The impact of overtime and long work hours on occupational injuries and illnesses: new evidence from the United States. Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2005;62:588-597.
[5] International Labour Organization (2019): Convention No 1: A landmark for Workers’ Rights. Retrieved from…/news/WCMS_728218/lang–en/index.htm
[6] Wong, K., et al (2019): The Effect of Long Working Hours and Overtime on Occupational Health: A Meta-Analysis of Evidence from 1998 to 2018. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
[7] Pega, F. et al (2021): Global, regional, and national burdens of ischemic heart disease and stroke attributable to exposure to long working hours for 194 countries, 2000–2016: A systematic analysis from the WHO/ILO Joint Estimates of the Work-related Burden of Disease and Injury
[8] Agovino, T. (2020 June 20). The Phenomenon of the Four-Day Workweek. Society of Human Resource Management. Retrieved from…/all…/pages/four-day-workweek.aspx
[9] Henley Business School (2019). Four-day week pays off for UK business. Retrieved…/four-day-week-pays-off-for…
[10] Japan News Center (2019). Published the effect measurement results of the in-house practice project “Work Life Choice Challenge 2019 Summer” centered on “4 days a week & 3 days a week”
[11] Haar, J. PhD (2018). Overview of the Perpetual Guardian 4-day (paid 5) Work Trial. Retrieved…
[12] Delaney, H. PhD. Perpetual Guardian’s 4-day workweek trial: Qualitative research analysis. Retrieved…
[13] Dembe, A. (2016 Sept 2). Why a four-day workweek is not good for your health. The Conversation
[14] Philippine Statistic Authority (2018). Labor Force Survey
[15] Ager, M. (2017 Mar 10) ‘Too much work kills,’ says Poe; 8 million Pinoys overworked.
[16] Rita, J, (2022 Mar 16): Duterte approves P200 monthly ‘ayuda’ for poor families, retains excise tax on fuel. GMA News
[17] IBON Economic and Political Briefing 2022
[18] CNN Philippines (2022 Mar 9): DOLE chief orders minimum wage review
[19] Pascual, J. (2022 Mar 15): Senate bet Colmenares calls for “unbundling” of fuel prices amid spike. ABS-CBN News.
[20] Antonio, R. (2022 Mar 15): Robredo presents 4-point plan to solve fuel price crisis. Manila Bulletin