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Dominican Republic starts pilot program on four-day workweek

By GERMAN SANCHEZ in Bogota | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-02-20 09:56

Just four days of work every week? Yes, said many companies in the Dominican Republic.

Starting this month, these businesses are taking part in a six-month pilot of a four-day workweek, where employees work 36 hours over four days but receive the same pay as a standard 44-hour, five-day workweek.

"The theme of reducing weekly working hours emerged as we discussed potential labor reforms in the Dominican Republic," Rafael Abreu, president of the National Confederation of Trade Union Unity, said. "The trial period will allow us to implement the changes and ensure the results do not compromise the goals of either party."

The voluntary trial aims to evaluate the impacts of shorter hours on workers' health, work-life balance and productivity. The initiative is the first of its kind in the Caribbean country.

Private and public companies participating in the trial include telecoms firm Claro, power company EGE Haina, heavy equipment dealer IMCA and the government's national health insurance agency, with around 300 to 400 workers taking part.

A local university will track results from surveys and interviews with employees, including any changes in physical and mental health, work satisfaction, and correlation between work and personal lives.

In the Dominican Republic, the typical workweek currently stands at 44 hours — eight hours daily from Monday to Friday, and four more hours on Saturdays. But employers have leeway in distributing those hours. A proposed four-day model would reduce the total weekly hours and concentrate them from Monday to Thursday.

The labor ministry said in a news release that the program aims to "prioritize people, improving health and well-being, and promote a sustainable and environmentally friendly productivity". It may also boost employment if companies need additional recruits to cover vacated hours.

Abreu believes the program could reduce fatigue and stress while improving work engagement as employees gain better work-life balance and arrive at their jobs in a more rested state. "With the extra downtime, workers may be able to perform at a higher level without jeopardizing their health or family life," Abreu said.

Costs in focus

With one less workday, companies may see benefits such as "lower office costs, decreased energy usage, reduced traffic congestion, and improved logistics if employers implement the changes successfully", said Luis Gonzalez, general secretary of the Latin American and Caribbean Friendship Federation with the People's Republic of China.

However, naysayers question the potential impacts.

"This is a pilot program voluntarily. It will not be feasible to roll it out across all industries, as those with round-the-clock production cycles would not be able to accommodate the adjusted working-hour structure," Abreu said.

Gonzalez noted that "some business sectors remain skeptical because much of the work in their industry is informal".

"Within this informal sector, we cannot talk about reductions but rather, people working whenever they prefer," Gonzalez said.

There is already evidence elsewhere that a four-day schedule boosts benefits in multiple areas. The United Kingdom's pilot last year — the world's largest trial of a four-day week to date — tracked about 2,900 employees across 62 companies and found enhanced work-life balance with no drop in output. Productivity even increased in some firms as burnout fell.

Chile has passed legislation to gradually cut the standard workweek from 45 to 40 hours by 2028, following Colombia's lead in limiting hours to 42 starting in 2023.

The writer is a freelance journalist for China Daily.

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