Michael Taft: This Over-Worked Working Life


From top: Early morning commuters on a Dublin Bus last January; Michael Taft

There is a growing interest in reducing the working week – usually expressed as a four-day week. Numerous ad hoc examples of private and public sector companies and agencies appear in the media while, here in Ireland, Forsa recently held a conference dedicated to reducing the working week.

The arguments for a shorter working week range from greater work/life balance, productivity, stress reduction, preparing for the impact of automation, etc. As part of that debate below is some information on how many hours per year people work in Ireland in comparison with our EU peer group (other high-income economies).

This data focuses on full-time employees but it should be noted that full-time is defined as approximately 30 hours by the CSO with possible different definitions in other countries. Further, this looks at the private sector as this is where the introduction of a shorter working week on the same rate of pay will be the most challenging.

The Private Sector Economy

Irish employees work more hours than most other peer group countries. The UK and the Netherlands report higher annual working hours. The Netherlands is an interesting case. It has the highest level of part-time workers with 50 percent of all employees working part-time compared to an average of less than 25 percent in other countries.

Annual working hours can be reduced in many ways – not just a though a shorter working week. For instance, public holidays, statutory annual holidays and additional holiday hours resulting from collective agreements in the workplace can reduce annual hours worked.

In total, Irish employees work the equivalent of 2.7 weeks more than our peer-group average, assuming a basic 39-hour working week (the UK is not included in our EU peer group for obvious reasons; Eurostat is already removing the UK from EU averages). We don’t work the most, but we work more than most in our peer group.

Working Hours by Sector

The following looks at sectoral breakdowns. Let’s start with the high working-hour sectors.

Irish construction employees work more hours than any other sector, and 15 percent more than our peer group average – 248 hours annually, or the equivalent of 6.4 weeks more per year. A possible contributor to this high level of working could be the emerging labour shortage in the sector.

Irish manufacturing employees work 11 percent more than our peer group – 175 hours annually, or the equivalent of 4.5 weeks more per year.

Turning to medium-high working-hour sectors we find the following.

Irish transport employees work 8 percent more than our peer group – 132 hours annually, or the equivalent of 3.4 weeks more per year.

Irish wholesale/retail employees work 6 percent more than our peer group – 106 hours annually, or the equivalent of 2.7 weeks more per year.

Irish communication and information employees work 2 percent more than our peer group – 37 hours annually, or the equivalent of nearly one week per year.

Irish financial services employees work 5 percent more than our peer group – 76 hours annually, or the equivalent of nearly two weeks per year.

Finally, let’s look at relatively low working-hour sectors.

Irish professional and technical employees work 1 percent more than our peer group – 11 hours annually, or the equivalent of less than two days per year.

Irish administrative service employees work marginally less than our peer group – less than half-a-day per year.

Irish hospitality employees work 3 percent less than our peer group – 53 hours less, or the equivalent of 1.4 weeks per year.

It should be noted that the hospitality sector is likely to have high levels of precariousness. The problem here may be that full-time employees don’t get enough work.

It’s bad enough that we are over-worked compared to our peer group. But we also get fewer paid days off.

Annually, Irish workers get 88 fewer hours paid without working than our peer group average. That’s the equivalent of 2.3 weeks fewer paid public holidays, annual holiday leave, etc.

Some might say this is the price we must pay to have a strong economy. However, other economies with far fewer working days and more paid days off have just as strong economies.

Belgium, which has the lowest annual hours worked and the highest number of paid days off, has the highest GDP per person employed (factoring in living costs). On the other hand, the UK has the highest working hours and the fewest paid days off.

Yet they are at the bottom. Ireland, while ranking third, is clumped together with a number of other countries which have fewer working hours and more paid days off.

In short, working more doesn’t guarantee higher output.

Hopefully the debate over the future of the working week will gather pace.

But one thing is for sure. Irish workers are already over-worked. What we need is fewer working hours and more paid time off.


Michael Taft is a researcher for SIPTU and author of the political economy blog, Notes on the Front. His column appears here every Thursday.

Top pic: Rollingnews

Sponsored Link

23 thoughts on “Michael Taft: This Over-Worked Working Life

  1. max

    To be honest i would settle for 1 bank holiday every month.

    I do wonder if the diff in construction sector hours is down to the bogus “self employed” status of most construction workers. Most self employed generally work harder than paye, take fewer holidays etc.

    1. Curmudgeon

      Yeah they’re being fleeced by their employer that know damn well these guys don’t understand their employee rights and are given forms to sign asserting that they are contractors. It’s rampant employer abuse.

      Also construction industry hours are insane. 7am til 6pm is the norm for trades workers. Office workers slightly less but engineers often do more work after hours.

  2. Spaghetti Hoop

    Would prefer a four day working week with defined outputs but with the fifth day devoted to skills and training – be that in a formal setting or online from home. Win-win for employers and employees, and the general health of the skills force. It would also stamp out ageism in the workplace.

    1. Stephen

      The vast majority of computer users should have no issue with a zip file.
      Also the link took me to a webpage where I can look at the data or download one of many formats csv, xlsx, pdf, spss in a zip file.

  3. Fact Checker

    “Belgium, which has the lowest annual hours worked and the highest number of paid days off, has the highest GDP per person employed (factoring in living costs).”

    In Belgium, people work very short hours, which is nice.

    The downside is when they are off work, so is everyone else, and it is very hard to buy things.

    It is the most consumer-unfriendly country I have ever spent time in. The PPS adjustments do not factor in the hedonic downsides of long queues and rude staff either:D

    1. Rob_G

      This is true – partially due to the fact that the costs of hiring additional staff are so high that many shops won’t consider it worth their while.

  4. Michael Taft

    Eoin – you might try again. When I click on the link it opens up to a dataset, not a zip file.

    The Eurostat you link to is correct – but it refers to “number of hours per week at their main job”. It doesn’t break down hours actually worked and hours paid but not worked. While the numbers per week in the main job is 39 hours, this doesn’t include holiday time, etc. No one (hopefully) works 39 hours per week, 52 weeks per year.

    1. eoin

      Thanks Michael, it might be my device but it is fairly accommodating. Having tried again, the link still tries to open a file “show.gz” and the “gz” extension is a zip thingy and only a 1kb file at that. Will study your point later. Thanks.

    2. Cian

      Michael, I’m getting different results from that site. Are you restricting your figures to companies with 10 or more employees? (and if so why?)

      I followed your link, and look at data for all fulltime employees, but use ALL company sizes, restricting for (B-S_X_O Industry, construction and services (except public administration, defense, compulsory social security) ) then I get a different picture.

      Ireland 2016 has 1,095,581 employees working 1,858,248,964 hours. or an average of 1,696… which is 40 hours more than the EU peer group you mention.

      When I look at construction the average drops very slightly 1915 to 1898 – but the number of employees goes from 45,543 to 73,290!!

      1. Cian

        I’m getting different number for construction too – 1810 hours – which is 100 lower than yours…

      2. Michael Taft

        Cian – I used 10 or more because most countries in our peer-group don’t report for Total , so there could be no comparisons. I used full-time as the proportion of part-time varies (e.g. Netherlands) so that we don’t know who is working more than others on a like-for-like basis. And I used the market economy and its sectors as these are the sectors that will have the most difficulty adjusting to a shorter working week (non-market sectors are largely public sector or public subsidized).

        1. Cian

          Thanks for clarifying this. You did mention the last two items in the article – but didn’t mention the first.

          I really enjoy your articles, and really appreciate that you link to your sources, and (mostly) explain your data choices.

  5. The Old Boy

    The fact that the x-axis is not 0 on the various bar charts is deeply irritating and misleading.

    1. Fact Checker

      It’s perfectly standard when you have a limited range.

      It’s not a problem when it’s clearly labelled.

      1. The Old Boy

        Which it isn’t, in this case. Charts should be illustrative, of course, but these appear to deliberately exaggerate relatively small differences.

      2. Cian

        I disagree. Strongly. it is very misleading. And in the case above it isn’t clearly labelled.

        Bar charts are there to compare visually – specifically area. By not starting at zero you have (in the 2nd chart) a green area that is more than twice the size of the blue (but in the text we read it is only 15% bigger). Line charts or dot plots should be used,

  6. Zaccone

    The fact we have 9 bank holidays really annoys me. It should be made a nice even 10, with a start of July bank holiday added. Then we’d have one in each of May/Jun/July/August across the best weather months. It would also bring us more in-line with European norms, where most countries have 10-12.

    Surely this would be supported by pretty much every voter. Irish political parties love populist measures in good times, one of them needs to hop on this.

    1. Cian

      What? if you are doing it based on being “a nice even” number – why not got all out for 12? one per month?

      1. Zaccone

        Baby steps. 12 would be lovely, but adding 3 bank holidays in one go would be a lot. 10 is an easier initial step.

  7. Clampers Outside!

    Thanks for posting BS, and thanks for contributing Mr Taft. A good read as per usual :)

Comments are closed.

Sponsored Link