At the beginning of the month, the Knesset approved a first reading of a private member's bill aimed at moving the Israeli economy onto a 4.5-day work week - something that still doesn't exist in most Western countries, even those much wealthier than we are.
The proposal of MK Nahum Langental (National Religious Party) stems from the religious approach that the Sabbath day must be kept as a day of total rest. At first, Langental tried to reach a social pact according to which the malls and shopping centers would be closed on Saturdays, but cultural activities would remain. But the working secular public was unwilling to give up shopping on Saturdays and other family activities that take place along with the shopping.
Langental therefore raised another idea: a 4.5-day work week with the week starting Monday morning and ending midday on Friday. Monday through Thursday a workday would be 9.5 hours, while Friday would be 5 hours, maintaining a 43-hour work week. As soon as Sunday became a day of rest, it would be possible to transfer all commercial, entertainment and cultural activity, including soccer games, to Sunday, making Saturday into a real Sabbath according to religious law.
In conversation, Langental has said that if it becomes evident to him that the law would cause lost output and increased production costs, he would withdraw the bill. This week we obtained a letter sent by the president of the Manufacturers' Association to the prime minister detailing the cost of the bill.
1. Industrial output would drop. The extra hour added on to the workday would cost employers more but its output would be lower due to workers' tiredness.
2. Transition to 4 days. In practice, it would not be possible to bring workers back to the work place on Fridays, long since a day of shopping, entertainment, errands and Sabbath preparations. The result would therefore be a slide into a four-day week. Another drop in output.
3. Lack of efficiency. If industry returns to working Fridays, this means regression to the earlier inefficient operation of factories for only half days, with all their concomitant costs.
4. Overloaded transportation. Mostly on roads leading to sea and airports, particularly on that Friday half day.
5. Lack of coordination. Between systems that would continue to work on Sundays like schools and public transit, and the rest of the country.
6. Inflexibility. This complex issue is currently agreed on between employers organizations and the Histadrut labor federation, giving consideration to both sides' problems, which is infinitely preferable to the heavy hand of the legislator.
The Manufacturers Association estimates that the business sector's losses from the transition to a 4.5-day work week at NIS 14 billion. The treasury estimates the public sector's losses at NIS 3.8 billion, bringing the total to NIS 17.8 billion - something the economy cannot and should not bear.
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