Mythbusting: Are South Africans hard workers?

While it is often said that global companies are happy to employ South Africans because of their work ethic – the latest available data from OECD goes a long way to reinforce that view.

According to OECD data, the average South African works for 43.3 hours a week – the fifth highest average in the world – with many workers putting in hours above the maximum limit installed through labour law.

People in Turkey work an average of 49.1 hours a week in a “main job” – working full-time. This is followed by Colombia (48.3 hours), and Mexico and Costa Rica (both 44.7 hours).

The data is based on reported labour force statistics from governments across the globe.

The 15 ‘hardest working’ countries

# Country Average work hours (per week)
1 Turkey 49.1
2 Colombia 48.3
3 Mexico 44.7
3 Costa Rica 44.7
5 South Africa 43.3
6 Israel 40.4
7 Poland 39.9
7 Portugal 39.9
9 Slovak Republic 39.7
10 Hungary 39.6
11 Czech Republic 39.5
12 Slovenia 39.3
13 Iceland 39.2
13 Latvia 39.2
15 Estonia 38.9

On the other side of the spectrum, the OECD data shows that the Netherlands has the lowest working hours at 28.9 hours per week. This is below Denmark (32.5 hours), Norway (33.9 hours) and Switzerland (34.4 hours).

South African working hours

According to the latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey for Q4 2015 by Stats SA, South Africa has 16 million people in employment.

Just under 85% of the South African labour force work over 40 hours a week – with 30% of the total working more than 45 hours a week.

Working longer than 45 hours a week is, in many cases, against current South African labour law.

South African labour laws put the maximum hours an employee may work at 45 ordinary hours per week – where employees working up to 5 days a week shouldn’t work more than 9 ordinary hours a day, and those working more than 5 days shouldn’t work more than 8 ordinary hours a day.

Provision is made for workers to negotiate working hours up to 12 hours a day, but may still not be made to work for more than 45 ordinary hours a week, and no more than 10 hours overtime.

Work hours can also spread differently over 4 months, so long as the average is no more than 45 hours a week.

A research paper from the University of Stellenbosch and the Bureau for Economic Research based on statistical data from 1997 to 2011 found that South Africans have consistently maintained average work hours beyond the accepted “40 hour work week” standard.

At the latest date of the study (2011), formal South African workers across all industries worked an average of 42.9 hours a week. South Africans were still the 5th hardest workers at the time, according to OECD data.

Here are the hardest working industries, based on the Stellenbosch and BER data:

Industry Average work hours (per week)
Mining and quarrying 45.3
Wholesale and retail 44.7
Financial, insurance and business services 43.7
Transport, storage and communication 43.6
Manufacturing 43.3
South Africa average 42.9
Electricity, gas and water supply 42.6
Construction 42.2
Community, social and personal services 40.8

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Mythbusting: Are South Africans hard workers?