Four-day work week for China should be heeded

By Ni Dandan Source:Global Times Published: 2015-4-2 18:48:01

March 25 marked the 20th anniversary of the implementation of China's five-day work week, but three-day weekends are already being proposed by netizens who say that life in China has become all work and no play.

Eighty-eight percent of 50,000 people polled in a recent Sina survey showed resounding support for the proposal, citing the need to improve their personal standard of living now that the country has realized significant social and economic gains.

Professor Wang Qiyan with Renmin University of China, an expert in leisure economy, has been a vocal advocate of the new proposal, citing numerous European countries with successful four-day work weeks.

The Netherlands, for example, boasts a 29-hour work week, the lowest of any industrialized nation, while Denmark works only 37.7 hours per week. Lest these countries be deemed indolent, it should be noted that the labor productivity level of the Netherlands is one of Europe's highest, and Denmark is ranked "the world's happiest country."

Conversely, employees in China are given on average only five days of paid leave within a year. Although we do have some national holidays, only two of them are seven days long, and those days must be made up by working through weekends prior to and following the holiday. That's not a very good deal for China's working class.

Prior to 1995, blue and white-collar workers here got an even more raw deal, whereby six-day work weeks were regularly practiced.

Public holidays back then only gave one to three days off. When China finally instituted two-day weekends, the country also witnessed the start of its economic uptick. This was not a coincidence, but it took another half-decade before the government realized the relationship between the people's leisure time and the republic's market growth. In 2000, the first seven-day "Golden Week" holiday went into effect.

Since then, our economy, and our spending, have been unstoppable. The more time we Chinese have to play, the more we spend. Holidays have become less an occasion to relax at home with our families and more an opportunity to go out and consume. Tourism statistics show that outbound Chinese tourists spent a record $164.8 billion overseas in 2014.

Why have Chinese become such impulsive buyers abroad? I believe part of the reason is because workers have been mentally gearing up for a break for so long that once they are unleashed in a foreign marketplace, they can't help themselves from going berserk, knowing that the next chance they'll get is at least another year away.

It doesn't take an economist to figure out that granting Chinese workers longer weekends would lessen their need for annual escapes. Yearly trips to, say, France would become biennial, and hence more travel - and spending - would occur in domestic destinations.

Professor Wang optimistically forecasts an official four-day work week in China by 2030, but I suspect any changes to the current system are far from ever becoming a reality; our corporate-dominated culture would never stand for it, and the Ministry of Commerce would certainly be unwelcoming of the suggestion.

Still, the obvious desire by China's workforce for more time off should be heeded by our leaders as an indication of our collective exhaustion after nearly two decades of full-tilt economic growth.

I hereby propose the following concession - the eight-day calendar week - which would preserve the government-mandated five-day work week while also appeasing the people's need for a three-day weekend. Considering that China's seven-day week can historically be traced all the way back to the Jin Dynasty (265-420), it's high time we modernize our outdated calendar system.

Readers are welcome to e-mail the Global Times with suggested names for the new 8th day.

Posted in: TwoCents, Metro Shanghai, Pulse

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