Jan 30, 2024 - World

Latin America experiments with a shorter workweek

Illustration of four to-go coffees that read Mon, Tues, Wed, and Thurs

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The four-day workweek has received tepid interest in the U.S., but in Latin America one country is giving it a shot, while others are moving to shorten work hours.

Driving the news: The Dominican Republic next month will start a six-month pilot program for a four-day workweek. The program mimics one in the U.K. that resulted in workers' stress levels dropping and job retention rising, according to a report released last year.

  • It's the first such nationwide effort in Latin America and the Caribbean, and could serve as a regional example.

The big picture: People in Latin America work between 39 and 44 hours a week on average, but some countries allow 48-hour workweeks.

Details: Under the program, several public and private companies will cut the full-time workweek to 36 hours without reducing pay.

  • Telecom giant Claro and IMCA, a major construction company, will take part in the program.
  • A local university will monitor and evaluate the efforts.
  • The DR's labor ministry says the aim is to "prioritize people to better their health, wellbeing and foster a more sustainable productivity."

Zoom out: Other countries in the region have also started tackling their long working hours.

  • Last year, Chile began a gradual reduction in the number of hours employers can make people work, from 45 to 40 per week by 2028, and a law in Colombia will cut work hours from 48 to 44 by 2026.
  • Mexico's Congress is discussing a similar law that would lower the workweek from 44 to 40 hours.

What they're saying: "Since one size does not fit all, it would be great if new workweek policies were to incorporate flexibility" depending on workers' circumstances, says Noemí Enchautegui-de-Jesús, who studies work stressors and disparities at American University in Washington.

  • She adds that if four-day workweeks were to be adopted in parts of the U.S. as well, "that would benefit Latinx/a/o and Black workers" because many struggle to take time off for things like medical appointments.

Reality check: Latin American economies are highly informal, meaning many people work in unregulated jobs such as tending to street market stalls.

  • That means the potential benefits of capping work hours might not be felt by a substantial swath of the population.
  • In the Dominican Republic, for example, the Inter-American Development Bank estimates that 55% of workers are informally employed.

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