Working Hours In India: A Sea-change In Store

The stage is all set for working hours in India to see a dramatic turn and the four labor codes are behind the announcement that is likely to reach the public officially as of October 1st, 2021. 

The consolidated labor codes were supposed to reconcile the rules made in 44 central laws, collating rules in wages, industrial relations, social security and working conditions, and occupational health and safety. Since the item ‘Labor’ is on the concurrent list in India, state governments can adopt these regulations at their discretion.

Historical influences of working hours in India

Backing up a little, the issue of working hours in India merits a close watch because it is both a human resource management and productivity metric as well as a human welfare and quality of life indicator. India’s working culture has not completely switched from a 6-day work-week to a 5-day work-week in all its sectors. Working hours in India are, therefore, the only reliable measure of work done and worker performance in most cases. This cap is currently at 48 hours per week for adults according to section 51 of the Factories Act, 1948. However, these 48 hours can be calculated as 8-hour workdays or 9-hour workdays, with an individual spreading them over no longer than 10.5 hours in a day.

You might also be interested to read: New Labor Codes: Preparing For Post-pandemic Employment And Economic Recovery

The change proposed by the four labor codes hits this cap of 48 hours. The erstwhile limit is likely to be relaxed and it may soon be legal to ask workers to pull 12-hour shifts, 6 days a week. The erstwhile cap of 48 hours was arrived at in 1919, at the Hours of Work (Industry) Convention with the backing of the International Labor Organization. It has been in force since 1921 It is also seen as a global standard, in keeping with humanitarian welfare and health norms.

Present-day proposals and status quo – how working hours in India MAY change

While the cap for working hours in India has been 9 hours a day, some states are ready to push for longer workdays, especially to compensate for the productivity missed out during the pandemic. With this background, it does not seem shocking that Gujarat, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, and Punjab have already made clear their intent to push workdays to 12 hours per day. Controversial as this step is sure to be, these states see this measure as one of the most effective ways to curbing labor shortages and reduction of personnel on the factory floors in the name of covid-19 related social distancing. Of these states, Punjab and Rajasthan have also mentioned their provisions for overtime payment vis-à-vis double the normal wage.

In the wake of the pandemic, several labor reforms have taken shape, allowing companies greater flexibility for hiring temporary workers and concluding projects. The proposal for increasing the working hours in India for factory workers has been in consideration since April 2021. It all started with an announcement in February 2021 from the Union Labor Secretary that workers putting in 12-hour workdays can be allowed to wrap up a work-week in 4 days instead of 5 or 6. 

While the proposed increase in working hours in India for factory workers addresses the question of severe labor shortage and unpredictable productivity, it can increase the imbalance in wages and the general unemployment status quo because the demand for new hires and extended contracts becomes unpredictable. There is also the off-chance of fresh employment and renewals taking a nosedive. From a worker safety and welfare perspective too, the proposed change is not an uncomplicated recipe for a win. Whether such a labor reform actually aids ease of doing business for Indian Industry remains to be seen.


  • New labour rules with change in work hours, pay to come into effect from Oct 1?|hindustantimes|Ayshee Bhaduri| AUG 24, 2021
  • Factory Workers Can Now Legally Be Asked to Work 12-Hour Shifts. How Will this Change Things?|thewire|K.R.Shyam Sundar| APR 27, 2020

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