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Work is not quite worship, according to this bill

The right to disconnect bill would protect employees' free time — and get the bosses' goat
No calls please: We are on a picnic.

The Editorial Board   |     |   Published 13.01.19, 03:41 AM

Twenty winks — the dream of many an overworked employee — could soon be extended to 40 if a bill presented by a private member receives Parliament’s nod. The right to disconnect bill 2018 — sleep-deprived, burnt-out workers will argue that there is a merry ring to it — introduced by a parliamentarian, promises several goodies to those who are convinced that work is not quite worship. Among other sops, the proposed legislation seeks to confer the right on harried employees not to respond to urgent summons — ringing mobile phones, shrill emails — that are related to work beyond specified hours or, the assurances only get better, while they are on holiday. But this is not quite the entrée, as it were. Section 7 of the bill promises workers — this should get the bosses’ goat — that they cannot be subjected to disciplinary action by their employers for their refusal to respond to official communication beyond the designated time. Temperamental bosses are not the only creatures who have been left shuddering by the provisions of the bill; they are likely to be joined by company owners who may be left shaken — but not quite stirred — by another stipulation. Stiff penalties have been envisaged for ‘entities’ — companies or societies — that refuse to comply with the regulations.

The outcomes could, however, be comical in some industries. Consider the plight of the editor whose frantic calls to a reporter go unanswered because the boss has called after the Cinderella hour. Cynical souls could also look upon parliamentarians deliberating on the merits of the right to disconnect bill as an instance of supreme irony. Are not parliamentarians distinctly allergic when it comes to getting work done? This winter session, the Rajya Sabha had clocked a poor percentage as far as productivity was concerned; the figure for the Lok Sabha — incredibly — was a shade under 50 per cent. The data show, once again, that politicians can be disconnected in more senses than one. The life of an aam aadmi, unlike that of politicians, resembles the one lived by Jack: all work and, with luck, a bit of play. A study by a Swiss investment bank had found last year that among 77 cities around the world, the working hours on an average were the highest for an employee in Mumbai. Hearteningly, it seems that parts of the world have discovered a fundamental flaw in the Calvinist work ethic. There is now a growing realization that longer working hours need not necessarily lead to greater productivity. Greece is a good example of this theory. Labour laws are being sensitized accordingly. Some say that the French have been left with more time to chase pleasure now that they work lesser hours than their European brethren.

What should disconnected Indian workers do with their free time? The bill does not make that choice for them. This is a pity since time, even time away from work, is not really free for some people. Take the case of working women. ‘Leisure’ could condemn them to a greater share of domestic chores; whoever has heard of an efficient house husband? And what about the workaholic? Is not a democracy committed to upholding the interests of those who are in the minority?

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