Industry players generally do not welcome a proposed four-day working week.
SME Association of Malaysia president, Ding Hong Sing said fewer work hours in Malaysia would result in less output and subsequently higher prices in the market as companies still need to cover their fixed costs. “For example, if you make 100,000 products in one week, when you shorten the working days, it will become 80,000. “But we still need to pay salaries and rent so we will need to raise prices to cover the cost and this will affect the overall economy,” he said.
Ding added that Malaysia is currently facing a labour shortage as more than one million foreign workers have gone back to their home countries following the movement control order. He opined that as a developing country, the level of automation has not yet reached that of countries which have implemented the four-day work week system.
He was responding to a proposal by Johor assemblyman Nor Rashidah Ismail that the state government adopt a four-day work week from Monday to Thursday with rest days from Fridays to Sundays for the state. She suggested working full time from Monday to Thursday with an additional hour of working time.
Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) deputy president Effendy Abdul Ghani said the implementation of a four-day work week depended on the type of industry and its relevance. Come September 1, he also said the amendment to the Employment Act 1955 will see working hours reduced from 48 to 45 hours per week. “There has to be a discussion carried out among the employers, employees and government on the four-day work week implementation.
Government Contract Workers’ Network (JPKK) secretary Sivaranjani Manickam said the issue was not the five-day work week. Rather, it was the long working hours affecting employees in the country. She said the organisation supported the five-day work week or 35 hours of work per week, no more.
Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia (ACCCIM) president Tan Sri Low Kian Chuan is not in favour of the four-day work week as the country first needs to improve productivity and competitiveness. “We will be reducing our working hours from 48 to 45 hours per week in September. We are short of two working days so we cannot reduce more now. “Also, Malaysia is ranked second with the most public holidays in the world at about 20 days and there are always additional holidays such as winning a football game,” he said.
The four-day work week has been implemented in several countries in Europe namely, Spain, Belgium, Iceland, Sweden, Germany as well as Japan and New Zealand. The latest is the United Kingdom, which began trials this month. The rationale behind this implementation has to do with the benefits in cost-cutting, and increasing productivity and work-life balance. In 2019, tech giant Microsoft experimented on a four-day work week in Japan. The results: productivity and work efficiency received a boost by 40%.
In Sweden where the four-day work week had a head start in 2015, results were mixed as not many people were pleased with the idea. From 2015-2019, Iceland carried out a large-scale pilot project involving some 2,500 workers. They took on 35 to 36 hours of work a week without a pay cut. The programme was deemed successful as Icelandic trade unions negotiated for a reduction in working hours. Belgium’s implementation of the four-day work week saw working hours compressed into fewer days in the month of February.
In Singapore, workers were worried that a four-day week would mean longer hours. An online survey found that full-time employees are worried that a four-day work week will mean longer hours for them. But they will support their employer implementing such an arrangement as an additional rest day would benefit their mental health, according to results of a poll by American software company Qualtrics released on June 21. The survey, conducted in May, involved workers in industries ranging from information technology (IT) to retail.
It showed that almost eight in 10 workers expect to clock longer hours with a four-day work week. Six in 10 were also worried that with a shorter work week, customers would be left frustrated. Firms had rolled out flexible work arrangements, including a shorter work week, amid the pandemic. Ministry of Manpower employer surveys show the majority are keen to continue with these, according to Gan Siow Huang, Minister of State for Manpower and Education, in Parliament last month.