Chilean Congress approves bill reducing work week to 40 hours

The bill passed by a large margin and is expected to be signed by Chilean President Gabriel Boric.

Gabriel Boric
Chile's President Gabriel Boric was elected on a platform that emphasised workers' rights and social justice but has faced setbacks to his agenda [File: Andres Poblete/AP Photo]

Chilean legislators have overwhelmingly passed a bill reducing the country’s work week from 45 to 40 hours in a bid to improve the quality of life and rights of workers in the South American nation.

The measure passed the lower house of Chile’s Congress on Tuesday by a margin of 127 to 14 after being anonymously approved by the Senate several weeks ago. Chile’s left-wing President Gabriel Boric, who is expected to sign the bill into law, hailed it as a “pro-family project that aims at the good living of all” in a Twitter post.

“This is a project that will contribute enormously to our quality of life,” said Labor Minister Jeannette Jara. “Yes, changes can be made to advance workers’ rights.”

The bill represents a legislative win for Boric, who won election on a left-wing platform promising to improve workers rights, combat inequality and promote social justice.

However, some of Boric’s larger ambitions — such as rewriting the country’s neoliberal constitution inherited from the era of right-wing dictator Augusto Pinochet and making large changes to the tax code — have faced setbacks.

Tuesday’s law incrementally lowers the work week over the course of five years until the country reaches 40 hours, the standard in many industrialised nations.

Latin America, however, has some of the longest work weeks in the world, with 48-hour work weeks in countries such as Peru, Argentina, Mexico and Panama and 44 hours in Brazil.

The South American nation of Ecuador, though, has a 40-hour work week.

Longer work weeks also do not necessarily mean enhanced productivity: France has a 35 hour work week and has some of the most productive workers of all the countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Other countries have also experimented with shortened work weeks, with one of the largest trials concluding in the United Kingdom earlier this year.

The trial, which included 61 companies, found that four-day work weeks led to decreased stress for workers and had little impact on revenue. The vast majority of the 61 companies decided to continue the practice after the trial had ended.

Tuesday’s bill in Chile prevents businesses from reducing salaries because of the change and allows workers to switch to a four-day work week. However, it does not apply to informal sectors of Chile’s economy, which constitute more than a quarter of the country’s workforce, according to the news agency AFP.

Some businesses have criticised the initiative, saying it will place them under strain as they try to adjust, but others have welcomed the change.

Danitza Becerra, the owner of a design company named Organic Style, told Reuters that her firm switched to a 40-hour work week years ago and it has been a positive experience.

“It’s a very good initiative that has changed our lives,” she said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies