Irish people are spending less time at work now than at any time in the past 15 years
Irish employees put in 14% fewer hours in the workplace on average in 2004 than they did in 1990. Of 28 countries analysed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Ireland saw the sharpest reduction in working hours over the 15-year period.
In 1990, only the Greeks, Japanese and Koreans clocked up more hours at work. But by 2004 the Irish were working fewer hours than 17 other nationalities, including the British, Canadians, Spanish and Australians.
At the start of the 1990s, and before the arrival of the Celtic tiger, the average Irish person spent 1,911 hours a year at work, 144 hours more than their British counterpart. In 2004, workers in Britain clocked up 1,669 hours, 27 more than those in the republic.
The average Irish working week has shortened by five hours in the 15 years to 31.6 hours — or one hour less per day in a five-day week.
The perception that the country is working harder than ever has been perpetuated by an influential minority of the workforce — mainly senior male managers — who are putting in long hours themselves, say experts.
“There are more of those sort of jobs where people are put under pressure to work long hours, but they are not the statistical average,” said James Wickham of the Employment Research Centre at Trinity College Dublin.
“It is not the case that working hours have been getting longer. We have this perception because male managers, in particular, work long and varied hours, which is quite stressful. These are the people who get listened to — they have louder voices than someone working in a bank or a shop.”
Eamonn Finn, a senior market analyst at Mintel said: “People tend to have more responsibility in their jobs now. As a result when 5pm comes, it’s harder to separate themselves. Even though work ends, the stress continues. For that reason a lot of people think they are working longer hours when it’s not the case.”
Maria Cronin, director of European and social affairs policy at Ibec, agreed that the trend is for Irish people to work less hours. “Obviously within that are some people who are working the same hours, and there may be some who are working more,” she said. “But there are many more people taking time out and career breaks, availing of holidays and statutory leave periods, and working part-time.”
The European working time directive, which was introduced in 1998, limits the working week to 48 hours. “Our statutory holidays have increased under the directive, maternity leave has increased and parental leave was introduced,” said Cronin.
The fact that there are more part-timers working now than in 1990, when Irish unemployment rates were higher, also pushes the average number of working hours down. There has been a large influx of women into the workforce during the period, many taking up part-time jobs. There are also more casual positions filled by students.
In most of the 28 OECD countries studied, hours worked fell over the period. The average hours worked per year per employed person fell from 1,790 in 1990 to 1,740 in 2004.
Workers in Mexico, New Zealand and Sweden experienced a marked increase, however, while the Danes, Greeks and Hungarians saw a smaller rise. The Dutch worked the fewest hours, followed by Norwegians, Germans and French.
Sally Anne Kinahan of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu), said the fall in working hours had been more marked in Ireland because unions had helped achieve increased holidays, time off and a shorter working week.
“Reduced working hours are welcome,” she said. “It is a fact that there is a long-hours culture in some parts of the economy. “Whether they are working shorter hours or longer hours, people feel under a lot more pressure in work.”
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