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8 hours work, 8 hours recreation, 8 hours rest

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The majority of Malaysians work long hours because they cannot earn in eight hours the income they need to put food on the table, writes Rani Rasiah.

The relationship between employer and employee will be compromised with these amendments

“Eight hours work, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest” – the slogan of 1817 raised by a leading socialist during the Industrial Revolution remains as valid as ever today 200 years later. The implication is that if this prescription is not followed, then the mental and physical health of the workers will suffer.

And this opinion is now shared by the representative of the multinational corporation Regus, that “the long-term effects of this over-work could be damaging both to workers’ health and to overall productivity as workers drive themselves too hard and become disaffected, depressed or even physically ill”.

The findings of the global survey by Regus, which is the world’s largest provider of flexible workplaces reveal that Malaysian workers are an overworked lot. According to the survey, half of Malaysian workers work more than eight hours a day.

That is really an understatement. The majority of Malaysian workers work 12 hours a day in two shifts; the 12 hours includes four hours of overtime. Why 12 hours? Because they cannot earn in eight hours the income they need to put food on the table. And because the four hours overtime is compulsory.

The Regus survey (carried in our press on 9 November 2011) also shows that 15 per cent of workers in Malaysia regularly work more than 11 hours a day, compared to 10 per cent globally. Migrant workers in Malaysia are known to work up to 16 hours a day. We know also of workers who do two jobs in order to pay the bills – a regular job in the day and another in the evening or night. No eight-hour recreation for these workers.

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Yet for all this slaving away, there have been no rewards or incentives for Malaysian workers. They are often termed unproductive and choosy by both employers and government alike; and over the past five years, we have seen an erosion of the rights and benefits enjoyed by them. The most recent attack on them is the amendment to the labour law, which formalises the contractualisation of labour and transfers the responsibility of workers’ welfare and benefits from the employer to the contractor of labour.

Rani Rasiah is an Aliran member based in Ipoh

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