During the past month, we have broken our yearly “record” about weekly working hours in a factory. We have found workers have worked 106 hours in a single week. That means more than 15 hours a day, 7 days a week. Even if not all weeks were that long, most of the surrounding weeks were more than 80 or 85 hours a week (12 hours a day, 7 days a week). Actually these workers haven’t had any day off within more than 2 months.
Fortunately, not every factory works that long, but a large majority of factories work more than 70 to 75 hours a week with one to two days off a month. When come the time to ask for explanation, the first one is still : “They are migrant workers, they want to work. If we don’t let them make enough overtime, they will resign.”
This statement seems reasonable enough to most of people as it is partially true. The legal working duration is 40 hours a week, and as workers are far from their home, they prefer to earn as much as possible in the shortest period. You may note a first difference. Workers think about wages, not about working time, but still, it is partially true. Workers don’t want to work 40 hours in a week. They prefer to work more and get more money. However, when we look carefully to factories policy, we often find penalty for workers who wouldn’t attend every working hour, or even only ask for a day leave. As most of the workers are paid on a piece rate, missing attendance already means losing the money of this day, but factories still feel the need of a stronger policy. If workers would have been really happy with the working duration, it wouldn’t be necessary to find means to limit absenteeism and leave request. That is confirmed by workers interview and the complaining on working time.
Therefore, even if the common explanation on workers willingness of overtime is partially true, it is important to remind it is also partially false, and as in every thing, equilibrium is needed.