Problems facing 4-day workweeks in South Africa

 ·26 Dec 2023

Despite positive results from the first South African trial, there are still question marks over how a 4-day workweek would work in South Africa.

The trial by 4 Day Week Global had several positive results, including a reduction in burnout, declining levels of fatigue, more time spent exercising, improved work-life balance, and a general improvement in mental health.

94% of respondents said that they plan to continue with the four-day workweek or are considering implementing it on a full-term basis.

However, Cliffe Dekker Hofmyer said the 4-day workweek may not work in some industries, with most respondents in the professional services sector and others in marketing, IT, finance, healthcare, recruitment, social services and consulting.

“It is important to recognise that there is a clear absence of businesses from other sectors, such as mining, agriculture and manufacturing, which together constitute some of the largest employers in South Africa. The efficacy of a four-day workweek in these industries is uncertain.”

“In these sectors, working hours also tend to be highly regulated by way of main collective agreements and sectoral determinations with salaries at times directly linked to hours worked.

“Furthermore, the long-term effect of a four-day week in the workplace and the impact on company culture is difficult to predict at this early stage.”

In addition, none of the companies that participated in the study are large-scale employers or listed on the JSE.

For a holistic perspective on the applicability of the four-day workweek, the focus needs to be shifted to be more inclusive.

The Department of Employment and Labour previously said that particular focus needs to be placed on sectors that are earning minimum wage, with the reduction of working hours already discussed at the National Economic Development and Labour Council’s Labour Law Reform Task Team.

“The challenge of such a model lies largely in its potential implementation and potential amendments to the Wage Bill, more so in highly unionised environments where negotiations on basic conditions of employment are particularly complex.”

“Notwithstanding, the topic of reduced hours of work, without loss of pay, may easily find its way to the tables of collective bargaining, which may radically alter the labour space for a time.”

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