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A report from the International Labour Organisation has revealed that working for hours that are too long negatively affects workers’ safety, health, and ability to reconcile work and personal life.

According to the report, working fewer than 20 hours is considered short working hours, while more than 48 hours is considered excessive working hours.

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It said working for too long was associated with an increased probability of heart disease and stroke, through stress, and the biological and behavioural responses to such stress in countries across the world.

The report also noted that irregular and unpredictable working hours, specifically when these were not decided jointly by workers and employers, led to significant work-life conflicts and caused earnings insecurity.

“This, too, has repercussions for safety and health, by causing psychological stress and affecting sleep quality and overall well-being among other effects.

“Irregular and unpredictable working times can also reduce interactions between workers and unions, which makes it harder to organise and collectively represent workers’ interests,” the report read in part.

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The ILO also said Nigeria and the United States had exceptionally low levels of working time regulation, while Australia, Japan, Kenya, the Philippines, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and Zimbabwe were also notable for their relatively low levels of regulation.

“Excessive working hours (more than 48 hours per week) affect one out of every four key workers on average across countries, and are particularly prominent in security and transport as well as among the self-employed,” it added.

The organisation further said the first step in addressing excessive working hours was to review existing national regulations on working time to ensure it was in line with ILO standards, including the reduction of hours of work to attain the standard of the 40-hour week without any corresponding reduction in workers’ wages.

It added, “But while regulation is an important step in curtailing excessive hours, it would only apply to workers in an employment relationship.

“Self-employed workers are not covered by working time regulation laid down in labour laws and given the low incomes associated with much own-account work in the global South –particularly in agriculture or food vending – additional policy interventions are needed to address the low levels of productivity and low incomes that lead to lengthened working hours.

“In other cases, however, it is not low productivity that is causing long working hours, but rather the shift to self-employment, some of which is bogus.”

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