This month a legislative proposal shortening the work week to 4.5 days, less than in the developed West, passed its first of three Knesset votes.
The proposal, by MK Nahum Langental (National Religious Party), stems from the religious requirement that Sabbath must be a day of total rest. Langental had hoped to achieve a pact for shopping centers to remain closed on Saturdays, leaving cultural activities open. But the working secular public was unwilling to give up shopping on Saturdays and appended family activities.
Then Langental had his brainwave: shorten the working week to 4.5 days, starting Monday morning and ending midday Friday. From Monday through Thursday, the work-day would consist of 9.5 hours, while Friday would be 5-hour workday, to maintain the 43-hour work week.
As soon as Sunday became a day of rest, it would be possible to transfer all commercial, entertainment and cultural activity, including soccer games, to Sunday, making Saturday into a real Sabbath complying with religious law.
Langental has said in conversation that if he learns the law would cause lost output and increased production costs, he would withdraw it. This week, we obtained a letter sent by the president of the Manufacturers' Association to the prime minister, spelling out the cost of the bill.
1. Industrial output would drop: The extra hour added on to the workday would cost employers more but its output would be lower due to workers' tiredness.
2. In practice, people would work only four days: it would be impossible to bring workers back to the work place on Fridays, long since a day of shopping, entertainment, errands and Sabbath preparations. The result would therefore be a slide into a four-day week. Another drop in output.
3. It would be inefficient to run productionn plants for a half-day on Friday, with all the concomitant costs.
4. Transportation would become overloaded, mainly on roads leading to sea ports and airports, particularly on that Friday half-day.
5. There would be a lack of coordination between systems that would continue to work on Sundays, like schools and public transit, and the rest of the country.
6. Inflexibility. The current complex issue of workdays is currently agreed on between employers' organizations and the Histadrut labor federation, giving consideration to both sides' problems, which is infinitely preferable to the heavy hand of the legislator.
The Manufacturers Association estimates that the business sector's losses from the transition to a 4.5-day work week at NIS 14 billion. The treasury estimates the public sector's losses at NIS 3.8 billion, bringing the total to NIS 17.8 billion - something the economy cannot and should not bear.