In modern society, work has no meaning for the working class. Our daily routine is monotonous, dull and demeaning. We do our work not to develop our potential, but to enrich our employer. Most of our precious time is spent generating profits for the capitalists. Being working class means being forced to dedicate our time and even our lives to the capitalists.
In Asia, workers’ lives are literally bound to the capitalists. Workers spend around 8-14 hours a day, or 45-70 hours/ week, on average at the workplace for very low wages. Workers in Hong Kong, for example, are reported to work an average of 50.1 hours a week, while only recently in South Korea it was announced that the average working hours would be reduced to 52 hours/ week from 68 hours previously.
In other parts of Asia, workers are ordered to work longer. Garment workers in Bangladesh are forced to work up to 14-16 hours a day for a six day a week. In some cases, the exhaustive working conditions are made worse by long overtime work. Workers in Japan log at least 80 hours of overtime a month, but this can amount to as much as 159 hours, equal to 6 hours of overtime each day.
Although in some countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines the maximum working hours should not be more than 8 hours under the countries’ labor laws, if travel time is included this can still mean a 12-13 hour day due to bad traffic and the long-distance commute to major cities such as Jakarta and Manila Workers can spend 5 hours just to commute tens of kilometers between their workplace and their home.
Stress and fatigue caused by exhausting working conditions do not come without more severe health risks. In China, where average working hours exceed 60 hours per week, official figures reported that in 2014 1,600 workers died every day from working too hard. Meanwhile, a woman worker in Japan last year reportedly died from heart failure after logging 159 hours of overtime.
Deadly working hours exist elsewhere in Asia. In Hong Kong, 19 passengers were killed when a bus driver who was exhausted due to long driving hours (12-14 hours) crashed. Similarly, in Indonesia, tank truck drivers employed by Pertamina Inc (an Indonesian state-owned oil company) face death risks by driving petrol tanks for more than 12 hours a day.
Death by overwork or ‘work to death’ is so prevalent that there is even a term to define it: Karoshi (過労死) in Japan, Gwarosa (과로사/過勞死) in South Korea and Guolaosi (过劳死) in China. Even though there are no particular terms, Cambodia’s garment workers are also literally working themselves to death. Mass fainting in the factory is reported in many countries, such as Cambodia and Indonesia, while in China we have already heard the sad story of Foxconn workers becoming suicidal due to harsh working conditions.
Long working hours brings no benefit at all to society. Lack of rest due to overwork can lead to the accumulation of stress and fatigue, which is one of the main sources of many health risks. Increasing stress hormones may cause heart failure or strokes, while the decreased metabolic ability due to lack of rest may cause diabetes. Overwork will not make workers become more productive but their cognitive level will decrease as the result of exhaustion.
Sleep deprivation may affect mental health and workers may become emotionally aggressive. Workers may frequently fight with his/her spouse due to accumulated stress. It is also common that stress may turn into depression or anxiety. This is reflected in the high suicide rate in South Korea where 40 people commit suicide every day on average.
Intensification of competition under free market capitalism has only adversely impacted on the working class. The ‘Race to the Bottom’ has created even more harsh conditions at the workplace. Workers are forced to work harder and harder to earn nothing but death itself. By extending working hours, the capitalists are not only robbing the fruits of our labor, but our dignity and even our lives.
Working in excess of the limits of our physical and mental capacity has already proven harmful to our lives. ATNC Monitoring Network demands our governments strictly limit working hours to 6 hours per day without reducing workers’ wages. In order to maintain both our physical and mental health, we should have time to rest for at least 8 hours per day. Working hours should also take into account commuting time from home to the workplace and back. We will not have enough time to rest if we spend too much time commuting.
ATNC Monitoring Network also demands decent wages, not only to sustain our basic needs but also to develop our potential as human beings. If we earn decent wages we will not need to work longer to increase our income to meet basic needs and we will not need to work deadly working hours anymore.
We had a victory in limiting working hours as a result of constant class struggle since the “Eight Hour Movement” on May 1st, 1886. However, our victory has now been taken away from us as the number of working hours is almost exactly the same as before the Eight Hours Movement. We should not remain silent any longer as our quality of life has been degraded to the point of death. We should reclaim our victory.
April 24th, 2018
Asia Transnational Corporation Monitoring Network
- Asia Monitor Resource Centre, Hong Kong
- Globalization Monitor, Hong Kong
- Committee for Asian Women, Malaysia
- Centre for Workers Education, India
- Labour Education Foundation, Pakistan
- Ecumenical Institute for Labour Education and Research, Philippines
- Textile and Garment Worker Federation, Bangladesh
- Korean House for International Solidarity, Korea
- Yokohama Action Research, Japan
- Patchane Kumnak, Good Electronics Thailand
- Thailand Confederation of Trade Union, Thailand
- National Free Trade Union, Sri Lanka
- Confederation of National Trade Union, Indonesia
- The Indonesian Confederation of United Workers, Indonesia
- Sedane Labour Resource Centre, Indonesia
- Yaung Chi Oo Workers’ Association, Myanmar
- Cambodia Food and Services Worker Federation, Cambodia