Think you work long hours? Maybe you do. But it could be worse. A lot worse.
Almost 100 years ago, many countries adopted an eight-hour workday (whether they followed it is another matter).
But in Ukraine, lawmakers are finally trying to limit the amount of time workers toil each day — to 10 or 12 hours.
Yes, even 12 hours a day would be an improvement for Ukrainians, says Sergey Ukrainets, the vice president of the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine.
“Right now, there is no daily limit. Now the maximum is 24 hours,” says Ukrainets, who’s working on the legislation. “The proposal says 10 hours, but there are some members of parliament who would like to amend it to 12 hours.”
“In any case, it’s better than 24 hours,” he says.
Ukraine might have the longest workday in the world, according to international employment experts — although global rankings often overlook it.
It wasn’t always this way. An eight-hour workday was one of the first laws adopted in the Soviet Union, which exercised tight control over the workplace. However, after the USSR collapsed, labor rules like that became invalid, Ukrainets says.
Ukrainian law does put a 40-hour cap on the workweek, but daily shifts are unlimited. As a result, many people work 16-hour shifts for three days, or even 24-hour shifts every few days. Some just stay at work for 48 hours or more, visiting home when they can.
This is the case for 20-year-old café waitress Alina Kiyanitsa. She puts in 16-hour days at the Nivki Hotel in the capital Kiev. She lives at work in a room she shares with three other women.
“I don’t have time to have a boyfriend,” she says. “I don’t see my parents much. I like dancing, but I don’t have the time for it.”
Kiyanitsa’s day begins at 6 am, when she climbs down from her bunk to brush her teeth and put on lipstick. Work starts at 7 and doesn’t end until 11 p.m. Her salary is 3,000 hryvnias per month, or about $120.
That may sound rough, but long shifts are particularly concerning in occupations that can lead to serious work-related accidents. In construction, men are often required to work from sunrise to sunset in the summer — 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Ukrainets says.
“A person can fall from a wall. Bus drivers can collide with other buses,” he says. “If there is no limit, the greediness of the employer can force people to work between 16 and 18 hours per day.”
Longest shifts in the world?
Even if Ukraine adopts a 10-hour workday across all economic sectors, the country will still lag behind global labor standards.
“I can’t think of a country with a 12-hour regular workday. I can’t think of one that has a 10-hour workday either,” says Jon Messenger, team leader of the Working Conditions Group at the International Labor Organization, or ILO. “If you keep working long hours, and don’t have sufficient rest, you will build up fatigue and you’ll end up with health problems, work and family conflicts, and accidents at work.”
The ILO is a United Nations agency that monitors employment issues around the globe. According to its first convention on “The Hours of Work,” in 1919, “the working hours of persons employed in any public or private industrial undertaking or in any branch thereof, other than an undertaking in which only members of the same family are employed, shall not exceed eight in the day.”
Some countries do allow employees to work overtime up to 12 hours per day, Messenger notes. But overtime is ordinarily compensated with higher pay, and is supposed to be an occasional occurrence — not the daily norm.
Countries that have a limit of 12 hours per day including overtime include Armenia, Moldova, Belgium, Hungary, Algeria, Lebanon, Brunei, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Tanzania and Singapore, according to ILO data.
In the United States, according to federal law, employees have to be paid an overtime rate if they work more than 40 hours in a week, although some states look at overtime in terms of the eight-hour workday, according to Jason Surbey, a Department of Labor spokesman. California, for example, requires overtime pay for more than eight hours worked in a day.
If that’s too long, try Sweden. They’re working on six-hour days, 30-hour weeks.
The European Union has an eight-hour workday. And their workweek cannot exceed 48 hours, including overtime.
But that doesn’t apply to Ukraine — it’s not in the EU.
Not all Ukrainians are working crazy overtime, though. All McDonald’s employees in the country work eight-hour shifts, according to Dina Lysakova, the company’s assistant administrator in Ukraine.
McDonald’s says it’s one of the few eateries that follows that rule. Not all US chains do.
Domino’s Pizza staff in Ukraine work 12-14 hours daily, a pizza delivery man says.
But imagine yourself in the shoes of boxer Fridon Jugashvilli, who also works as a security guard at a hotel in Kiev. He has a 24-hour shift every three days, and earns $160 monthly.
“My legs get tired. I don’t eat well. I eat fast food,” he says. “In a 24-hour period, I get three hours of sleep. I would much rather work 10 hours a day for the same salary.”