The Work Hours Dilemma in India: A Comprehensive Examination : Daily News Analysis

Date : 11/11/2023

Relevance: GS Paper 3- Economy- Labour Law

Keywords: 70-Hour Workweek, Low Worker Productivity, NITI Aayog, MSMES, Demographic Dividend


A recent conversation looked into the question of whether Indians should work longer hours, sparked by Infosys founder Narayana Murthy's suggestion that young Indians should put in 70 hours a week to compete globally. The discussion covered various aspects of this proposition, considering economic, social, and practical implications.

The Context of India's Demographic Dividend-

Narayana Murthy's call for a 70-hour workweek was contextualized as a response to India's demographic dividend and its potential to harness this advantage. He emphasized the need for India to seize the opportunity presented by its large population, framing it as an inflection point for the nation.

Historical Perspective on Working Hours-

Experts brought historical context into the discussion, highlighting the International Labour Organization's standards of eight hours a day and 48 hours a week. Comparisons were drawn with post-war Germany and Japan, underscoring the unique circumstances that led to increased working hours in those nations during their periods of rapid industrialization. Comparisons between India's economy and those of Japan and Germany lack depth. The unique characteristics of each country in terms of labor force size, technological trajectories, and socio-cultural structures make arbitrary comparisons misleading. The emphasis should be on enhancing social investments, exploring domestic consumption potential, and adopting a human-centric approach to development for sustainable outcomes.

Realism of a 70-Hour Workweek-

The feasibility of a 70-hour workweek was scrutinized and pointed out the practical challenges, such as the additional time spent on commuting, highlighted the existing gender disparity in work hours. Experts echoed these concerns, cautioning against pushing workers beyond legal limits and noting the potential negative impact on unemployment, especially for women.

Understanding Worker Productivity

  • Defining Worker Productivity ( Labor vs. Work): Worker productivity, often interchangeably used with labor productivity, involves assessing the output value per unit of labor time. While labor productivity traditionally emphasizes manual activities, worker productivity encompasses mental activities. This distinction becomes crucial, especially in sectors where quantifying the value of intellectual labor is challenging. Income is frequently used as a proxy for productivity in such cases.
  • Productivity and Time vs. Skill: Contrary to the notion that longer working hours directly translate to increased productivity, a more nuanced view sees productivity as an attribute of skill rather than time. Human capital, inclusive of education, training, and health, enhances labor's ability to generate greater value within the same working hours. Therefore, reducing working hours may not necessarily hamper output value, and the economy can still experience growth while improving workers' quality of life.
  • Worker Productivity and Economic Growth: The relationship between worker productivity and economic growth is intricate. While increased productivity can contribute to economic growth, the distribution of income plays a crucial role. The disparity in income distribution in India over the years, with the top income groups experiencing disproportionate gains, raises questions about the correlation between productivity and prosperity for all. In the period from 1980 to 2015, India's Gross Domestic Product surged from about $200 billion to over $2,000 billion. However, income distribution trends revealed that the top 10% of income groups saw their share rise from 30% to 58%, while the bottom 50% experienced a comparatively modest increase of 90%. This data underscores the complexity of the relationship between productivity and inclusive economic growth.
  • Debunking the Myth of Low Worker Productivity in India: The claim that India has one of the lowest worker productivities is challenged by studies suggesting that Indians are among the most hardworking employees globally. Contrary to the assertion of low productivity, a study by Kronos Incorporated, a U.S.-based multinational workforce management firm, observed that Indians are among the most hardworking employees globally, adding a nuanced perspective to the discourse on India's workforce productivity.
  • Informal Labor and Its Impact: The rise in informal employment, both in organized and unorganized sectors, complicates the calculation of worker productivity. The purported increase in formalization, limited to tax inclusion, has not translated into improved labor standards. Cost-cutting through wage reduction in labor-intensive Micro-Small-Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) further blurs the assessment of productivity, as high profits coexist with low wages.

Industry and Regional Variations in Working Hours

Experts emphasized the importance of considering industry-specific working hour averages. Drawing comparisons with developed nations like the U.S., Germany, and South Korea, they highlighted how different sectors have varying average work hours. The discussion underscored the need to tailor any changes in working hours to the specific economic drivers and industries within India.

Productivity and the Need for Longer Hours

The conversation shifted to the question of whether working longer hours could compensate for India's historically slow productivity growth. Experts compared the productivity data of the U.S., Germany, and India, pointing out the need for increased capital investment and the adoption of advanced technologies to boost worker efficiency.

Role of Investment in Capital and R&D

The India Innovation Index report by NITI Aayog was referenced to address the low expenditure on Research and Development (R&D) in India. Experts highlighted the importance of capital investment in optimizing infrastructure and industry operations, introducing artificial intelligence, and enhancing worker efficiency.

Unit Labor Cost and Global Competitiveness

Experts brought attention to unit labor cost and its role in global competitiveness. They explained the inverse relationship between labor productivity and unit labor cost, stressing that simply extending work hours without a proportional increase in wages would not be a sustainable solution. The conversation emphasized the need for a holistic approach, focusing on raising productivity per hour.

Maintaining Work-Life Balance

It touched on the delicate balance between increasing worker productivity and maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Both participants acknowledged the severe job crisis in India and stressed the importance of formalization in the employment structure. They highlighted the need for strict enforcement of labor laws and empathetic leadership to ensure that longer working hours do not compromise the well-being of workers.


It underscored the multifaceted nature of the issue, considering demographic trends, historical precedents, industry variations, productivity challenges, and the imperative for investment in capital and research. The comprehensive examination highlighted the need for a balanced approach that considers both economic imperatives and the well-being of the workforce in navigating the complexities of India's evolving work landscape.

Probable Questions for UPSC mains Exam-

  1. Question 1: Examine the historical context of working hours, considering the International Labour Organization's standards and the unique circumstances in post-war Germany and Japan. How does this historical perspective contribute to the current discourse on work hours in India? (10 Marks, 150 Words)
  2. Question 2: Discuss the role of capital investment and Research and Development (R&D) in addressing India's productivity challenges. How can increased investment in infrastructure, technology, and innovation enhance worker efficiency and global competitiveness while maintaining a balance between economic growth and the well-being of the workforce? (15 Marks, 250 Words)

Source- The Hindu