STA, 24 August 2019 - Having shortened the standard eight-hour workday by two hours, companies Donar and Plastika Skaza have prompted a debate on whether Slovenia should replace the 40-hour working week with a 30-hour one. Trade unions welcome the idea, although they are aware of certain restrictions, whereas employers warn of negative consequences.
In April 2018, Donar, a designer chair manufacturer, became the Slovenian pioneer in shortening the workday without lowering pay or paying lower social security contributions for their employees.
Its director Matej Feguš has told the STA the idea had been in the pipeline for quite some time before it was implemented.
"Having observed the work processes in the company for a while, we realised people worked efficiently for six hours at the most. The goal was to improve productivity, not with more hours but with better-quality work."
He says their employees now have more time for their families and and have fewer problems, so they are consequently more diligent at work. What is more, relations in the company, which now employs 18 workers, have improved.
However, Feguš admits the shorter workday sometimes means that not all the work is done in time, so the company now plans work processes more carefully.
Also, employees get easily used to their new rights, so when the need to work longer actually arises, they have to negotiate with them as if they had to work overtime.
But Feguš believes the greatest benefit of the six-hour workday is that after working for 40 years, people's total workload would be lower by 20%.
"So after 40 years, they could still be active and contribute to society instead of retiring and be lying at home at the expense of the public health fund."
Ferguš is thus rather disappointed that politics has not yet found a way to legislate a six-hour workday.
Donar's example was this year followed by Plastika Skaza, a much larger company with more than 300 employees and around 100 temps.
The Velenje-based producer of plastic kitchenware will phase in a six-hour workday in October, starting with the accounting service department.
The idea is to allow our employees to better balance their work and private life, Aleksandra Logar, human resources head at Plastika Skaza, told the STA in June.
Although the 40-hour week is the standard rule in Slovenia, labour legislation allows for a shorter, 36-hour, working week, if the employer and employees agree on it in a collective bargaining agreement.
But not all Slovenian employers are thrilled at the prospect of a shorter workday.
Lina Fratnik Andrić of the Slovenian Association of Employers (ZDS) writes in the Delodajalec magazine about Sweden's experience at an elderly home and a hospital.
While the nursing staff and surgeons improved the quality of services and felt happier, more staff had to be hired to do the same amount of work, so labour costs rose.
Fratnik Andrić also says that the 35-hour working week introduced in France several years ago has failed to result in a higher employment rate.
"On the contrary, the number of workers taking two jobs has increased, and the actual working week has remained at 39 hours," she explains.
She nevertheless admits that work processes have radically changed since the 40-hour week was introduced, so new forms of work will have to be put forward.
She believes working at home and flexible work arrangements are two options to facilitate a better balance between work and other life roles.
With automation on the one hand and work becoming ever more intense on the other, Slovenian trade unions have made a shorter workday one of their goals a while ago.
Lidija Jerkič, head of the ZSSS confederation, believes a shorter workday has a positive impact on efficiency and safety at work, as well as on social life and health.
Still, she is cautious, noting that a six-hour workday would not increase employment and reduce costs in all branches of industry.
"If you have a one-shift company, productivity would increase if they do the same amount of work as in eight hours without hiring new staff, and they will save on electricity and heating bills.
"But if you have a company working in four shifts, fixed costs will remain the same, while workers for an entire new shift would have to be hired, which would considerably raise labour costs although productivity would perhaps improve," says the trade unionist.
She explains that the unions proposed a 35-hour working week to employers in the metal and electronics industries ten years ago, "but the answer was simply no".
"Unfortunately, the debate is now going in a completely different direction. Despite the legislated full 40- or 36-hour workday, workday is in practice totally out of control. Many workers work more than the weekday, they put in more overtime than allowed under the law, and have no breaks or rest."
Meanwhile, the ministry in charge of labour says there has been no serious debate on the issue among the government, unions and employers.
Introducing a six-hour workday, if it is to increase productivity, depends primarily on the type of business and the manner in which work is organised, the ministry has told the STA.