Q&As on business and working time

Document | 01 February 2012

Working hours

Question: What are the ILO provisions concerning working time?

Answer: Multinational enterprises operating in developing countries are encouraged in general to offer the best possible conditions of work, including working time, within the framework of government policies. These conditions should be related to the economic position of the enterprise.[1]

MNEs are encouraged to progressively reduce the normal hours of work from 48 hours to 40 hours, taking into account national conditions and practice, as well as the conditions in the particular sector of operation, in order to avoid any reduction in wages.[2] In progressively reducing hours of work, the following considerations should be taken into account:

  • the level of economic development attained and the extent to which the country is in a position to bring about a reduction in hours of work without reducing total production or productivity, endangering its economic growth, the development of new industries or its competitive position in international trade, and without creating inflationary pressures which would ultimately reduce the real income of the workers;
  • the progress achieved and which it is possible to achieve in raising productivity by the application of modern technology, automation and management techniques;
  • the need in the case of countries still in the process of development for improving the standards of living of their peoples; and
  • the preferences of employers' and workers' organisations in the different branches of activity concerned as to the manner in which the reduction in working hours might be brought about.[3]

With overtime, this limit could extend to 48 hours; but such overtime should be an exception to the recognized rules or custom of the establishment.[4] Any overtime worked should be remunerated at higher rates than normal working hours.[5] In arranging overtime, due consideration should be given to persons under 18 years of age, pregnant women, nursing mothers and people with disabilities[6].

Workers, in particular through their representatives, should be consulted in addressing how to progressively reduce hours of work[7].

National employers and workers organizations may also be a good source of information on national law, regulation and collective bargaining agreements pertaining to working time law and practice.

[1] ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles Concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy (MNE Declaration), paragraph 34
[2] Reduction of Hours of Work Recommendation, 1962 (No 116), paragraphs 1, 2 and 4. R. 116 is cited in the MNE Declaration
[3] R. 116, paragraph
[4] R. 116, paragraph 11
[5] R. 116, paragraph 19(1).
[6] R. 116, paragraph 18
[7] R. 116, paragraph 20(1)

Question: What is the meaning of the “reference periods” mentioned in Paragraph 12(2) of The Reduction of Hours of Work Recommendation No. 116?

Answer: Paragraph 12(2) of the Reduction of Hours of Work Recommendation No. 116 refers to the maximum reference period over which averaging of hours of work may be permitted. The maximum reference period is the basis on which hours of work are averaged to allow a more flexible approach to fixing a limit to hours of work per week. Averaging is permitted on condition that:

  • it is an exceptional case;
  • there is an agreement between the workers’ and employers’ organizations; and
  • this agreement has been transformed into regulations by the competent authority[1] .

Reference periods can be 3-month, 6-month or even 12-month.

[1] Hours of Work (Industry) Convention, 1919 (No. 1), Article 5. A similar provision is found in Hours of Work (Commerce and Offices) Convention, 1930 (No. 30), Article 6.

Question: What are the maximum hours of work per week allowed under ILO standards for shift workers?

Answer: The relevant international labour standards set a limit on normal (pre-overtime) hours of 8 per day and 48 hours per week[1] or 40 hours per week.[2] Governments are encouraged to progressively reduce the normal hours of work from 48 hours to 40 hours, taking into account national conditions and practice in order to avoid any reduction in wages.[3]

The 8 hour day and 48 hour week may be exceeded, provided that the average number of hours over a 3 week period does not exceed 8 hours per day and 48 hours per week.[4] Averaging of work hours over a reference period of three weeks is permissible in case of shift work;[5] and the 8-hour-day and 48-hour-week limits may be exceeded in case of continuous processes working by a succession of shifts where a 56-hour weekly maximum limit may be applied. [6] The Committee of Experts noted in its 2005 General Survey Hours of Work : “While international standards with respect to hours of work are required to provide effective protection for workers, the government reports and the information provided by the social partners reveal that Conventions Nos. 1 and 30 do not fully reflect modern realities in the regulation of working time. In fact, there are elements of the Conventions that are clearly outdated. Perhaps the most obvious is the 56-hour limit on continuous shift work contained in Article 4 of Convention No. 1. None of the countries that responded to the survey impose such a limit on continuous shift working. At the same time, many counties have introduced legal limits that are more favourable to workers than the generally applicable limit on working hours. In Norway, for example, the 40-hour limit is reduced to 36 hours for continuous shift workers, and the same limit applies in Paraguay rather than its ordinary 48-hour limit.”[7]

Shift workers are also subject to temporary exceptions in exceptional cases of pressure of work, accident, force majeure, and urgent repair work; [8] averaging of work hours over an undefined period, but only in exceptional cases and where there is an agreement between the workers and employers organizations which has been transformed to regulations by the competent authority.[9]

Finally, work that is "inherently intermittent" is permitted as a permanent exception to the general 8-hour day and 48-hour week limits [10] are permissible on condition that the competent authority issues regulations determining the number of additional hours of work which may be allowed in the day, after consultations with the employers’ and workers’ organizations.

[1] Hours of Work (Industry) Convention, 1919 (No. 1), Article 2; and Hours of Work (Commerce and Offices) Convention, 1930 (No. 30), Article 3.
[2] Forty-Hour Week Convention, 1935 (No. 47), Article 1(a). The introduction of the 40 hour work week should not result in a reduction in the standard of living for workers.
[3] Reduction of Hours of Work Recommendation, 1962 (No 116), paragraphs 1, 2 and 4.
[4] Convention No. 1, Article 2(c).
[5] Ibid, Article 2(c).
[6] Ibid, Article 4.
[7] 2005 General Survey Hours of Work, para. 322.
[8] Convention No. 1, Articles 3 and 6.
[9] Convention No. 1, Article 5.
[10] Hours of Work (Commerce and Offices) Convention, 1930 (No. 30), Article 7(1)(a).

Question: Are 24 hour shifts consistent with international labour standards?

Answer: Working 24 hours per shift would not be consistent with the principles of international labour standards concerning working time.

The relevant international labour standards set a limit on normal (pre-overtime) hours of 8 per day and 48 hours per week.[1] The 8 hour day may be exceeded in the case of shift work, [2] provided that the average number of hours over a 3 week period does not exceed 8 hours per day and 48 hours per week.[3] In cases where the nature of the production process requires that it be carried on continuously by a succession of shifts, a 56-hour weekly maximum limit on average may be applied, [4] but only in exceptional cases where it is recognized that the normal limits to hours of work cannot be applied.

Work that is "inherently intermittent" is permitted as a permanent exception to the general 8-hour day and 48-hour week limits [5] on condition that the competent authority issues regulations determining the number of additional hours of work which may be allowed in the day, after consultations with the employers’ and workers’ organizations.

The relevant conventions also allow temporary exceptions in exceptional cases of pressure of work, accident, force majeure, and urgent repair work;[6] averaging of work hours over a period exceeding one week, but only in exceptional cases and where there is an agreement between the workers’ and employers’ organizations which has been transformed to regulations by the competent authority.[7] Therefore it is important to check national law provisions concerning the limit on hours of work for shifts.

The national employers’ and workers’ organizations in the countries of operation may be able to provide further information.

[1] Hours of Work (Industry) Convention, 1919 (No. 1), Article 2; and Hours of Work (Commerce and Offices) Convention, 1930 (No. 30), Article 3.
[2] Convention No. 1, Article 2(c).
[3] Convention No. 1, Article 2(c).
[4] Convention No. 1, Article 4
[5] Hours of Work (Commerce and Offices) Convention, 1930 (No. 30), Article 7(1)(a)
[6] Convention No. 30, Articles 3 and 6.
[7] Convention No. 30, Article 5.

Question: Which ILO convention, if any, provides guidance on hours of work for producers of agricultural and or horticultural products worldwide?

Answer: International labour standards do not give specific guidance on hours of work in agriculture. Instead they leave to the competent authority in each country to determine the appropriate limits, in consultation with the national employers’ and workers’ organizations.[1] Therefore it is important to check national law and any collective agreements which may exist in the countries in which you are operating.

The ILO Code of practice on safety and health in agriculture contains a section on hours of work which provides the following guidance:

  • 19.2. Working hours
  • 19.2.1. The pace of agricultural work has increased with the use of task rates and piecework. Long hours of work, particularly intense manual labour, contribute to workers’ fatigue and lead to accidents on the job.
  • 19.2.2. Daily and weekly working hours should be arranged so as to provide adequate periods of rest which, as prescribed by national laws and regulations, or approved by labour inspectorates or collective agreements, where applicable, should include:

(a) short breaks during working hours, especially when the work is strenuous, dangerous or monotonous, to enable workers to recover their vigilance and physical fitness;

(b) sufficient breaks for meals;

(c) daily or nightly rest of not less than eight hours within a 24-hour period; and

(d) weekly rest of at least a full calendar day.

  • 19.2.3. Extended workdays (over eight hours) should be contemplated only if:

(a) the nature of the work and the workload allow work to be carried out without increased risk to safety and health;

(b) the shift system is designed to minimize the accumulation of fatigue.

The national employers’ and workers’ organizations in the countries of operation may be able to provide further information. The International Global Union Federation for workers in the agricultural sector is the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF).

[1] The Hours of Work (Industry) Convention, 1919 (No. 1) states in Article 1, paragraph 3, that “competent authority in each country shall define the line of division which separates industry from commerce and agriculture.” The Safety and Health in Agriculture Convention, 2001 (No. 184) states in Article 20 that hours of work, night work and rest periods for workers in agriculture should be in accordance with national laws and regulations or collective agreements.

Question: Does the ILO Hours of Work (Industry) Convention, 1919 also apply for producers of agricultural and or horticultural products worldwide. If not which ILO convention is applicable for above mentioned producers?

Answer: International labour standards do not give specific guidance on hours of work in agriculture. Instead they leave to the competent authority in each country to determine the appropriate limits, in consultation with the national employers’ and workers’ organizations.[1] Therefore it is important to check national law and any collective agreements which may exist in the countries of operations. The ILO Code of Practice on Safety and Health in Agriculture contains a section on hours of work which provides the following guidance:
19.2. Working hours
19.2.1. The pace of agricultural work has increased with the use of task rates and piecework. Long hours of work, particularly intense manual labour, contribute to workers’ fatigue and lead to accidents on the job.
19.2.2. Daily and weekly working hours should be arranged so as to provide adequate periods of rest which, as prescribed by national laws and regulations, or approved by labour inspectorates or collective agreements, where applicable, should include:
(a) short breaks during working hours, especially when the work is strenuous, dangerous or monotonous, to enable workers to recover their vigilance and physical fitness;
(b) sufficient breaks for meals;
(c) daily or nightly rest of not less than eight hours within a 24-hour period;
and
(d) weekly rest of at least a full calendar day.
19.2.3. Extended workdays (over eight hours) should be contemplated only if:
(a) the nature of the work and the workload allow work to be carried out without increased risk to safety and health;
(b) the shift system is designed to minimize the accumulation of fatigue.

[1] The Hours of Work (Industry) Convention, 1919 (No. 1) states in Article 1, paragraph 3, that “competent authority in each country shall define the line of division which separates industry from commerce and agriculture.” The Safety and Health in Agriculture Convention, 2001 (No. 184) states in Article 20, that hours of work, night work and rest periods for workers in agriculture should be in accordance with national laws and regulations or collective agreements.
 

Working hours – Overtime

Question: We respect the limit of 48 hours / max 12 hours overtime a week on a non-regular basis but our employees (mainly migrant workers) constantly push for more work as their sole interest is to earn as much as possible before returning home. Some workers will even look for extra work at other workplaces. This is a true dilemma for us. What are your recommendations?

Answer: The problem of long working hours and the need for adequate rest is vitally important for both workers and managers. Excessive working hours can cause sleep disturbance and fatigue, cardiovascular, gastro-intestinal and mental health disorders. Fatigue can contribute to a higher incidence of accidents and injuries, as well as decreased productivity and poorer quality.

The main responsibility of any enterprise is to obey the national law. The ILO also encourages companies to follow the principles set out in the international labour standards. You may wish to have a dialogue with workers about their motivations for seeking extra working hours. In the discussion management could convey its concerns about the safety and health risks involved in working long hours.[1]

Below are a range of different factors motivating workers to seek more hours of work. These may help stimulate your thinking about what solutions may be most appropriate for your particular situation.

It may be that the workers really want to earn an adequate income; after they reach the expected level of earnings they begin to choose more leisure. In such cases, increasing workers’ total earnings in fewer hours through improving their productivity and income is the answer. Employers with superior technology and work organization can succeed in reducing hours of work through increased earnings per hour, while still remaining competitive. However, given the competitive pressures facing any particular enterprise, the challenge of raising wages to curb worker demand for more hours is best tackled on an industry-wide or national basis.

In some cases, demand for longer work hours comes not only from the workers, but also, or even primarily, from the local management. In such cases, there is a perception on the part of management that excessive overtime is cost-effective because even though worker productivity drops off significantly after 10 or 12 hours of work it is still more productive than having the machines sit idle. In case of wanting to maintain continuous production, a potential answer is for factories to go to shift work, which eliminates machine downtime. However, such a change needs to be done in close consultation with the workers, as those workers put onto night shifts will be greatly affected. It is recommended to establish a collective agreement to determine issues such as shift rotation, resting time, compensation, OSH concerns, etc.; and in all cases to have good communication with the workers before initiating the change, as well as an effective change management process for helping all parties to adjust.

Lastly, another factor which may be affecting workers’ choices is their options. Many migrant workers live in very poor conditions, with virtually no leisure activities. Supplying workers with adequate housing may do a lot to decrease worker demand for more hours and dissuade workers from moonlighting at other factories.

It may be that your enterprise’s situation is not related to any of these factors. This is why it is important to have a preliminary dialogue with the workers rather than assuming any particular motivations, in order to have an effective response.

[1] A tool which might be helpful is: Working time: Its impact on safety and health, by A. Spurgeon.

Question: Does compulsory overtime constitute forced labour?

Answer: The imposition of overtime does not constitute forced labour as long as it is within the limits permitted by national legislation or collective agreements. Above those limits, it is appropriate to examine the circumstances in which a link arises between an obligation to perform overtime work and the protection against forced labour.[1]

In cases in which work or service is imposed by exploiting the worker’s vulnerability, under the menace of a penalty, dismissal or payment of wages below the minimum level, such exploitation ceases to be merely a matter of poor conditions of employment and becomes one of imposing work under the menace of a penalty and calls for protection.

[1] General Survey concerning the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) and the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105), 2007, para 132

Question: Is there any guidance on the limit of overtime if the competent authority in a country does not place any limits on it?

Answer: The ILO Reduction of Hours of Work Recommendation, 1962 (No 116) sets out in the preamble the overall objective of the progressive reduction of hours of work to the standard of the forty-hour week without reducing wages.[1] It takes into account differing economic and social conditions[2] and variations in national practices; allows country-specific and industry-specific practices,[3] and takes into account the need to improve living standards.[4] However, in cases where the normal working week exceeds 48 hours, “immediate steps should be taken to bring it down to this level without any reduction in the wages of the workers”.[5]

The Committee of Experts has addressed the question of the maximum overtime hours permitted under the provisions allowing permanent or temporary exceptions:[6]

  • Neither Convention No. 1 nor Convention No. 30 prescribes any specific limits to the total number of additional hours which may be worked during a specified period in case of permanent or temporary exceptions. Convention No. 1 merely states that the maximum of additional hours in each instance of exceptions shall be fixed by regulations made by public authority. Similarly, under Convention No. 30, except in the case of a temporary exception in case of accident, force majeure or urgent work, regulations made by the public authority shall determine the number of additional hours of work which may be allowed in the day and, in respect of temporary exceptions, in the year.
  • Even though the establishment of specific limits to the total number of additional hours is left to the competent authorities by both Conventions, this does not mean that such authorities have unlimited discretion in this regard. Taking into account the spirit of the Conventions and in the light of the preparatory work, it is appropriate to conclude that such limits must be "reasonable" and they must be prescribed in line with the general goal of the instruments, namely to establish the eight-hour day and 48-hour week as a legal standard of hours of work in order to provide protection against undue fatigue and to ensure reasonable leisure and opportunities for recreation and social life.
  • In the light of the above, when deciding what should be considered as a "reasonable" limit on the number of additional hours in case of a certain exception, the public authority should make a thorough evaluation of the intensity of the respective work, its ability to produce physical or mental fatigue, and of possible negative consequences of fatigue for the respective employee and the public at large. The higher the intensity of the work, the higher is its ability to produce fatigue. The more serious the negative consequences of such fatigue could be, the lower would be a "reasonable" limit that should be allowed in case of a particular exception.

[1] R116, para. 4.
[2] R116, preamble
[3] R116, para. 1.
[4] R116, para. 7(c).
[5] R116, para. 5.
[6] General Survey Hours of Work, 2005, ILO, Geneva, paras. 143-145.


Rest periods – Weekly rest

Question: Are there any standards on the duration of rest periods?

Answer: The international labour standards have only a few guiding provisions concerning rest periods. Rest periods are defined as periods during which the persons employed are not at the disposal of the employer.[1] Employers should post conspicuously in the establishment the rest periods which are not included in the hours of work.[2] There should be no discrimination in rest periods allowed.[3] Employers should take into account the need for more flexible arrangements regarding rest periods, for workers with family responsibilities.[4]

National employers and workers organizations may also be a good source of information on national law, regulation and collective bargaining agreements pertaining to rest periods in national law and practice.

[1] Hours of Work (Commerce and Offices) Convention, 1930 (No. 30), Article 2
[2] Ibid, Article 11(2)(b).
[3] Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111), Article 1, paragraph 3 and Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Recommendation, 1958 (No. 111), Paragraph 2(b)(vi).
[4] Workers with Family Responsibilities Recommendation, 1981 (No.165) para. 18(b).

Question: Does a worker belonging to a religious minority have a right to a day of rest that differs from the customary day of rest?

Answer: The day of weekly rest should be fixed, wherever possible, so as to coincide with the days already established by the traditions or customs of the country or district.[1] The traditions and customs of religious minorities should, as far as possible, be respected.[2]

The national employers’ and workers’ organizations may have some suggestions about how to accommodate religious minorities in the communities in which your company is operating.

[1] The Weekly Rest in Industry Convention, 1923 (No. 14) states in Article 2(3) that weekly rest should “wherever possible, be fixed so as to coincide with the days already established by the traditions or customs of the country or district.” The Weekly Rest (Commerce and Offices) Convention, 1957 (No.106) provides in Article 6(3): “The weekly rest period shall, wherever possible, coincide with the day of the week established as a day of rest by the traditions or customs of the country or district.”
[2] C. 106, Article 6(4)


Paid holidays

Question: What are the provisions in international labour standards for paid leave?

Answer: The ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy does not specifically address holidays with pay, speaking only of benefits and conditions of work generally. It encourages MNEs to provide benefits not less favourable to workers than those offered by comparable employers in the country concerned.[1] Where no comparable employers exist, MNEs are encouraged to provide the best possible benefits and conditions of work, within the framework of government policies and related to the economic position of the workers and their families.[2] 

The Holidays with Pay (Revised) Convention, 1970 (No. 132) specifies a minimum of three working weeks for one year of service.[3] This would amount to either 15 or 18 days, depending on the length of the work week.

Minimum service may be required for entitlement, but should not exceed 6 months.[4] Employees whose service is less than one year (calendar year or equivalent length) should be granted a proportionate period of paid leave[5].

Employees should receive in respect of the full period of that holiday at least his or her normal or average remuneration (including payments in kind or cash equivalent)[6].

Leave may be divided into parts, but with one part consisting of a minimum of 2 uninterrupted weeks[7].

[1] MNE Declaration, para. 33
[2] MNE Declaration, para. 34
[3] Holidays with Pay (Revised) Convention (No. 132) Article 3(3)
[4] C. 132, Article 5(2)
[5] C. 132, Article 4
[6] C. 132, Article 7
[7] C. 132, Article 8(2)

Question: How should we deal with national legislation which provides that new employees have less than three weeks of paid vacation, but the amount increases based on seniority of employees?

Answer: The Holidays with Pay (Revised) Convention, 1970 (No. 132) specifies a minimum of three working weeks for one year of service.[1] This would amount to either 15 or 18 days, depending on the length of the work week.

This minimum applies to all employed persons[2] regardless of seniority. Paid leave is not just a reward for service; it is a key means of promoting the health and well-being of the worker and in many countries helps workers to meet their family responsibilities. Therefore the minimum of three weeks specified in the Convention applies to all workers, although minimum service may be required for entitlement, but should not exceed 6 months[3].

The ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy encourages MNEs to provide benefits not less favourable to workers than those offered by comparable employers in the country concerned.[4] Where no comparable employers exist, MNEs are encouraged to provide the best possible benefits and conditions of work, within the framework of government policies and related to the economic position of the workers and their families.[5]

[1] C. 132, Article 3(3)
[2] C. 132, Article 2(1)
[3] C. 132, Article 5(2)
[4] MNE Declaration, para. 33
[5] MNE Declaration, para. 34

Question: How should we count paid leave in relation to sick leave?

Answer: The ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy does not hold a specific reference to holidays with pay, speaking only of benefits and conditions of work generally. It encourages MNEs to provide benefits not less favourable to workers than those offered by comparable employers in the country concerned.[1] Where no comparable employers exist, MNEs are encouraged to provide the best possible benefits and conditions of work, within the framework of government policies and related to the economic position of the workers and their families.[2]

The Holidays with Pay (Revised) Convention, 1970 (No. 132) specifies a minimum of three working weeks for one year of service.[3] This would amount to either 15 or 18 days, depending on the length of the work week.

Absence from work due to illness, injury or maternity should be counted as part of service.[4]

Periods of sickness or injury generally should not be counted as part of the holidays with pay, but the convention leaves discretion to determine the conditions.[5] Paid holidays granted in excess of the three week minimum may take sick leave into account, so long as the prescribed three week minimum is available to every worker every year.

Sick leave or other interruptions of work related to illness or accident may be counted as part of the minimum annual holiday in conditions to be determined by the competent authority. At the enterprise level, it might be appropriate to clearly delineate these conditions in full consultation with the representative workers organization.

[1] MNE Declaration, para. 33
[2] MNE Declaration, para. 34
[3] Holidays with Pay (Revised) Convention (No. 132) Article 3(3)
[4] C. 132, Article 5(4)
[5] C. 132, Article 6(2)

Question: How should we count paid leave in relation to public/customary holidays?

Answer: The Holidays with Pay (Revised) Convention, 1970 (No. 132) specifies a minimum of three working weeks for one year of service[1]. This would amount to either 15 or 18 days, depending on the length of the work week.

Public or customary holidays should not be counted as part of the three week minimum annual holiday with pay.[2] Paid holidays granted in excess of the three week minimum may take public or customary holidays or sick leave into account, so long as the prescribed three week minimum is available to every worker every year.

The ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy encourages MNEs to provide benefits not less favourable to workers than those offered by comparable employers in the country concerned.[3] Where no comparable employers exist, MNEs are encouraged to provide the best possible benefits and conditions of work, within the framework of government policies and related to the economic position of the workers and their families[4].

[1] C. 132, Article 3(3)
[2] C. 132, Article 6(1).
[3] MNE Declaration, para. 33
[4] MNE Declaration, para. 34