Israelis to Get Six Sundays Off According to Cabinet-backed Bill

Measure, which has backing from prime minister, labor unions and many business groups, now goes to Knesset.

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People sit, walk and ride bikes on Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv.
Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv. Credit: Rafael Ben-Ari / Dreamstime

Israelis will be getting six Sundays off every year starting in 2017, under legislation approved by the ministerial legislative committee on Sunday.

The legislation still has to be approved by the Knesset, which will take an initial vote on the measure this Wednesday. But with support from Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, as well as the Histadrut labor federation and many business groups, approval seems certain.

“The transition to a long weekend will dramatically change the character of work and offers many benefits by reducing the burden on workers, improve the balance between work and family life, improve individuals’ lives and contribute to business sectors like retail and tourism, and better synchronize work and school vacations,” said MK Eli Cohen (Kulanu), the lawmaker who originally proposed the bill.

Supporters said the long weekends would align the Israeli workweek with other countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. They have Saturday-Sunday weekends, in contrast to Israel’s Friday-Saturday ones.

The net effect would be a loss of just one hour to the workweek over the course of a year, but supporters noted that Israelis currently work longer hours than most of their peers in OECD countries. The average Israeli works a 43-hour week, versus an OECD average of 40 and between 38 and 40 hours in the United States and Germany.

However, Israel has a much lower rate of labor productivity – the value-added output each worker produces on the job – but the legislation contained unspecified measures to increase it. Supporters also claimed that shorter working hours would boost productivity by enabling Israelis to be better rested.

“Israeli workers work 43 hours a week under the law, and that’s more than workers in most OECD countries. This situation has negative effects both on the ability for workers in Israel to balance work and family, but also on productivity levels,” said Histadrut Chairman Avi Nissenkorn.

However, Shraga Brosh, president of the Manufacturers Association trade group, cited statistics from the government itself that showed the longer weekends would cost the economy about 8 billion shekels ($2 billion) – or 1% of output.

“The result of increased vacation days will be higher prices for products, and poorer labor and business conditions,” Brosh warned, saying that the final version of the law had to be coordinated with business to minimize the damage.

Schoolchildren, however, will not enjoy fewer hours at school. Under the terms of the proposed law, the six Sundays off will be offset by two fewer days of summer vacation and four days taken out of the Passover vacation.