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Examining the Impact of Long Hours on Factory Workers

Friday, September 23, 2011

FLA’s research, assessments and surveys over the past two years confirm that excessive working hours have a negative impact on workers, often resulting in physical and psychological stress for workers and increased worker turnover. FLA surveys in China found that an estimated 50 percent of workers in the garment industry and 80 percent in electronics manufacturing work more than 60 hours per week, and an estimated 80 percent regularly work more than 7 days in a row. Even more alarming is the fact that 20 percent sometimes work more than 24 consecutive days without a day of rest.

One argument some have used in defense of excessive working hours is that Chinese factory workers want to work more hours. This argument, however, does not paint the full picture: 45 percent of 1,766 recently-surveyed workers say that their salary would not be sufficient if they did not work more than 60 hours per week. In fact, 40 percent said their salaries were not sufficient to cover basic needs, such as education, health care and housing. In addition, 50 percent of workers reported that excessive working hours make them feel isolated and more prone to sickness. Many said that they did not get to spend enough time with their families. Only 20 percent of workers felt satisfied with their job.


Brand, factory and supplier representatives gather at an FLA event to discuss solutions to problems caused by long work hours.

Data obtained by FLA shows that those who spend an excessive number of hours at work are eight times more likely to be unhappy with their job than those with regular hours. In addition, they are six times more likely to show signs of poor mental health. In short: long working hours create risks to workers’ wellbeing and undermine factories’ retention efforts and long-term productivity. Because of the harmful impact that long hours have on workers, the FLA Workplace Code of Conduct, which is based on international labor standards, states that “the regular work week shall not exceed 48 hours…Employers shall allow workers at least 24 consecutive hours of rest in every seven-day period…[and] the sum of regular and overtime hours in a week shall not exceed 60 hours.”

On September 20, FLA Shanghai hosted a networking event and brief workshop for suppliers and brands operating in or sourcing from factories in China. Session facilitators asked participants to consider how to improve relations at hypothetical “Factory A,” which has high working hours. Some background on the factory:

  • Over 90% of the employees are young, migrant workers
  • Wages are below average for the area
  • Workforce is unhappy and unmotivated, and there is alarmingly high turnover
  • Factory has low productivity and scored low in FLA’s baseline Hours of Work assessment

FLA suggested a holistic approach to improving working hours at the facility, focusing on factors that streamline and optimize the workforce, thus easing production schedules. Rather than just simply changing the hours of work at the factory, training and capacity building should be provided to factory management and workers to help them communicate, learn efficient production systems, and develop a robust human resources management department that supports workers’ needs.

Recommended steps included:

  1. Conducting a root cause analysis to examine what leads to excessive working hours;
  2. Providing focused training on retention, including developing a retention strategy and restructuring incentive systems (including wages and benefits);
  3. Providing focused training on productivity, including lean production and process improvement;
  4. Hosting workers’ participation training sessions;
  5. Conducting consultations with workers; and
  6. Working with buyers’ (brands) purchasing departments to ensure responsible sourcing.

To learn more about the impact of working hours on workers and their employers, contact FLA, access the Hours of Work Toolbox or register to attend an upcoming workshop.


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