Flouting the will of government, the Knesset on Tuesday approved a private bill turning Sunday, a regular working day in Israel, into a day of rest.

If the bill survives two more rounds of voting in parliament this week, the working week will consist of 4.5 days Monday to Thursday, plus a half-day on Friday.

The cost of the new bill will be around NIS 3.8 billion in lost tax revenue.

Sixteen Knesset members supported the bill, 13 objected, and one abstained.

The bill reduces the working week to 41 hours, from the current 43 (though civil servants work 42.5 hours). Economists estimate that the difference will cost Israel 2% of its gross domestic product.

Instead of reaching NIS 470 billion, GDP will drop by NIS 10 billion to NIS 460 billion, they estimate.

That would mean that the treasury's estimate of growth in 2003 will be grossly inaccurate: instead of positive 1% growth, it will be negative 1%.

GDP per capita would drop even more, by 3%, the economists estimate.

Schools will also have to decide whether to operate on Sundays, and lengthen study hours on other days. Banks will probably also close on Sundays, as will the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange leaving them to operate only Monday through Thursday.

The bill was first raised two years ago, and was passed by the Knesset's Labor and Welfare panel in March 2001.