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Monday, September 6, 1999 Published at 15:13 GMT 16:13 UK


'Americans work longest hours'

American workers might be in danger of burning out

Working long hours does not necessarily mean improved productivity, a report on world-wide labour trends suggests.

Author Lawrence Jeff Johnson: "One can work less but still be competitive"
The report, by the International Labour Organisation, says the United States is the only country in the industrialised world where working hours are increasing.

But while US workers still lead the world in terms of productivity, European workers are closing the gap, despite working fewer hours.

[ image:  ]
France, for example, recently passed laws limiting the working week to 35 hours, but has seen a surge of productivity.

ILO Director-General Juan Somavia commented that "while the benefits of hard work are clear, working more is not the same as working better".

The report examines key indicators of the labour market, including labour productivity, labour costs and hours worked.

US has longest hours

The report finds that on average US employees clock up nearly 2,000 hours per capita in 1997.

Working hours in France have been going down, with French workers putting in 1,656 hours in 1997 versus 1,810 in the 1980s.

[ image:  ]
But despite working shorter hours, European countries show similar rates of economic growth over the past decade to the US.

In the United Kingdom there has been only a slight decline in working hours, with employees putting in 1,731 hours in 1997 as opposed to 1,775 hours in 1980.

More free time for Japanese

The Japanese, like the Americans, work longer hours than the Europeans.

But in contrast to the US, Japan has seen a 10% decline in working hours from 2,121 in 1980 to 1,889 to 1995.

The report's authors note that the US worker may be in danger of burning out as long hours do not necessarily mean better work.

East Asia leads developing world

The report says few statistics on the developing world are available, so labour trends are not as easily identifiable as for developed countries.

However, it says that among the industrialising regions, East Asia would appear to have the longest hours of work .

Hong Kong, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand all reported working hours of between 2,200-1,300 per year, though these figures all come from before the Asian financial crisis.

Workers in Latin American and Caribbean countries work between 1,800and 1,000 hours per year, representing only modest declines from 1980 levels.

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