Working time and working organisation - Introduction

The subject of working time has been central to the work of the ILO since its inception, when it adopted the first of many international labour standards, the Hours of Work (Industry) Convention, 1919 (No.1). Some of the major challenges in this area remain those which have been important since the dawn of the industrial age: excessive hours of work and the need to protect workers’ health and safety by limiting working hours and providing adequate periods for rest and recuperation, including weekly rest and paid annual leave - which are enshrined in international labour standards.

However, a variety of factors in recent years have led to new trends and developments in both working time and work organisation:

  • Globalization and the resulting intensification of competition; dramatic advances in information and communications technologies; and new patterns of consumer demands for good and services have driven enterprises to adopt new methods of flexible - and sometimes global - organization of work, including temporal flexibility and spatial flexibility, as well as the “offshoring” of both manufacturing and services.
  • In addition, there have been profound demographic changes, such as the increasing entry of women into the paid labour market; the shift from single “male breadwinner” households to dual-earner ones; and a growing concern regarding work-life balance - all of which have shaped workers’ needs and working time preferences, which vary by gender as well as over the life cycle.
  • These various developments are reflected in a variety of flexible work arrangements that vary from the conventional full-time, “9 to 5” model, such as flexi-time arrangements, part-time work, hours averaging, working time accounts, and telework.
  • More recently, the global economic and financial crisis has had a profound impact on working time. At the height of the crisis, work sharing - a reduction of working time to spread a reduced volume of work over the same (or similar) number of workers to avoid layoffs - was widely used as a job preservation measure. Following the crisis, the working time challenges have shifted: from focusing mainly on preserving jobs to an increasing focus on job quality issues - many of which are closely linked to working time, such as an expansion in jobs with short and often highly variable hours.