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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Explained: Why Sikkim has dropped its five-day week for state employees

Nearly all of the advanced Western world, as well as countries like China, Russia, Brazil, and South Africa, do indeed, work Monday-Friday in the normal course.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: March 11, 2020 11:14:26 am
Sikkim Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang

The Prem Singh Tamang (Golay) government in Sikkim has withdrawn its decision to have a five-day week for staff government and public sector unit employees.

Chief Secretary S C Gupta has said that with effect from April 1, 2020, only the second and fourth Saturdays of every month will be a holiday, apart from Sundays, PTI reported.

When and why did Sikkim start having five-day weeks?

The government’s notification modifies its earlier notification of May 28, 2019, which was issued the day after Chief Minister Golay was sworn in, marking the end of the nearly 25-year rule of his predecessor, Pawan Kumar Chamling.

Golay had described the decision as a fulfilment of an election promise, and an initiative that would improve the quality of life of government servants, who could use the extra weekly holiday to “take care of their health and that of the members of their family”.

“We have fulfilled one of our election promises to reduce the working week for government employees from six days earlier to five days,” he had said.

The Chief Minister had urged the government machinery to work “as one family”, and constantly support each other.

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So what happened after that?

A PTI report from Gangtok quoting unnamed official sources said the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) government was not happy with the performance of its employees despite providing them holidays on Saturdays.

The SKM, which was founded in 2013, won a thin majority in the Sikkim Assembly in the elections of 2019, pushing Chamling’s Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) out of power.

The latest decision appears to confirm the view of sceptics who had said that the free time being made available to government employees would not help increase productivity; rather it would only allow them to more freedom to work less as a matter of right, and impact the government negatively overall, while bringing inconvenience to the people at large.

But isn’t a five-day week the general direction in which progressive societies are moving?

Nearly all of the advanced Western world, as well as countries like China, Russia, Brazil, and South Africa, do indeed, work Monday-Friday in the normal course.

In India, the Maharashtra government recently announced a Monday-Friday week, while increasing the daily working hours by 45 minutes to make up for the loss of work time.

Several other states already follow a five-day week, while others give employees a holiday on every second and fourth Saturday of each month.

How exactly does an extra holiday every week help?

The idea of a five-day week follows research that appears to show that a shorter workweek enhances efficiency and productivity of employees in the long run by reducing stress and improving their physical and mental well being. It also helps cut costs for governments and companies to stay shut for an extra day.

The five-day week was one of the early demands of the trade union movement, which fought hard to change the half day’s holiday on Saturday to a full day. The first five-day weeks started to appear in the United States in the early decades of the 20th century.

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Many progressive observers now feel that even a five-day week is unnecessary and possibly counter-productive, and that a four- or even three-day week would be a better alternative keeping concerns of work-life balance, employee health, and climate change in mind.

That said, however, no two situations and economies are identical, and national policymakers all over the world make decisions based on their assessments of what is the best for their people and situation.

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