Narayana Murthy’s suggestion of 70-hour work week draws flak across board 

HR professionals think that such a move could, in fact, prove counterproductive

October 29, 2023 08:03 am | Updated November 03, 2023 05:10 pm IST - Bengaluru

N. R. Narayana Murthy. File.

N. R. Narayana Murthy. File. | Photo Credit: PTI

Infosys founder N.R. Narayana Murthy’s suggestion that the youth of the country should volunteer to work 70 hours a week for India’s development has drawn flak from across the board — from software engineers and human resource professionals in the information technology (IT) industry to trade unions.

“It is only a thinly veiled endorsement of more inhuman exploitation of the Indian working class. Forcing employees to work longer hours would not only lead to physical and mental exhaustion but also infringe upon their fundamental rights,” said Sooraj Nidiyanga, general secretary, Karnataka State IT/ITeS Employees Union. 

HR professionals think that such a move could, in fact, prove counterproductive. B.S. Murthy, CEO of HumanCapital and an HR analyst, said it was disheartening to know the Indian workforce efforts were still measured in hours and not in terms of smart work done.

Changing world

“In the era of ChatGPT, where a host of tools are available to enhance your personal and work productivity, what Mr. Narayana Murthy has said is interpreted as slavery in today’s career context,” Mr. B.S. Murthy said.

“If 70 hours working was that beneficial, I wonder why Infosys didn’t introduce it during Mr. Narayana Murthy’s time. If the 70-hour regime is introduced, there will be a mass exodus of people and attrition will hit the roof,” argued Satish Sadasivan, a senior project manager with an MNC in Bengaluru.

“To clock 70 hours of working every week, one has to put in 11.66 hours a day for six days in a week or 10 hours every day. Such a crazy work schedule leaves no room for personal life or family well-being. It is easy for retired people who sit on tonnes of money to make such unviable suggestions,” said Aruna Lal, a city-based software engineer. 

Paying for stretch hours

However, 70-hour work weeks are not entirely uncommon in certain sectors. Kamal Karanth, co-founder, Xpheno, a specialist staffing company, and an HR analyst, said that irrespective of industries, the viability of 70 work-hour weeks depends on the stretch hours being paid or unpaid for. “We know in India we don’t pay for stretch hours amongst the knowledge workers. Unpaid stretch hours are only possible as a personal choice of a few outlier units among large organisations,” he said.

“However, stretch hours are not so much of a norm in the IT industry, whereas, in specific roles such as sales within banking, financial services and insurance, fast-moving consumer goods, and pharma sectors these stretch hours are seen more like a norm. However, all these roles with consistent stretch hours have very high attrition rates too,” he observed. 

Illegal too

Labour laws applicable to factory floors in Karnataka were recently amended to allow work hours up to 12 hours per day, but it is restricted to 48 hours a week, beyond which companies need to pay overtime pay. This amendment, not applicable to IT firms, has itself come under severe criticism. A 70-hour work week is not only exploitation but also illegal, say trade union leaders.

“An eight-hour workday is sacrosanct and has been hard-earned globally. Now the trend across the world is towards shorter workdays, not longer. In the State, the erstwhile BJP government brought in the amendment stretching work hours on factory floors to 12 hours and the Congress promised to revert it to eight hours in its manifesto but hasn’t done so yet after coming to power,” rued Satyanand Mukund, general secretary, All-India Trade Union Congress. However, he added that barring a handful of factories, most had not opted for a 12-hour workday. 

Gig workers routinely put in over 12 hours a day

Gig workers, who are not even considered “employees” by the platform companies they work for, do not even have defined “work-hour” rules. As commissions on deliveries and cab and autorickshaw rides drop, most gig workers are hard-pressed to make ends meet, forcing them to routinely work over 12 hours a day. 

Tanveer Pasha, president, Ola and Uber Drivers and Owners’ Association, said on average most cab drivers work over 14 hours every day. “Many work even over 18 to 20 hours. Hundreds of cab drivers sleep in cabs for a few hours and resume working again. We are considered self-employed as we do have the freedom to turn down a ride or a delivery. But that freedom is very notional, as we are forced to take up assignments beyond 12 hours a day in our struggle to make ends meet,” he said.

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