The Issues: Working Hours

Key Takeaways
  • Very low wages in the garment industry force workers to work excessive hours to make ends meet – far beyond the recommended 48-hour week. 
  • Study shows 97 per cent of garment factories surveyed in Bangladesh depended on excessive overtime, including 60-hour weeks. 
  • Last-minute order changes and shorter turnaround times put pressure on factories to meet demand by insisting on overtime

Many workers in garment and fashion supply chains experience extremely long working hours and are often required to work excessive overtime. 

The standard working week in the garment industry should typically be no more than 48 hours, spread over six working days, excluding overtime. Including overtime, workers should not be required to work more than 60 hours over any seven-day period. Workers should also be given at least one day off in every seven, or two days in every 14 days, as a minimum. 

  • In Bangladesh, excessive overtime was found in 97 per cent of the 36 garment factories studied by the Fair Wear Foundation between 2012 and 2015. Two extra hours per day, and 60-hour weeks were common.
  • In China, a study of four factories by SACOM and War on Want found workers doing between 80 and 150 hours of overtime per month, with overtime being paid at basic not enhanced rates.

Causes and effects of low wages

The endemic low wages received by workers in the garment industry often means that they feel they have no choice but to work excessive hours in order to make ends meet. However an overtired, stretched workforce can lose productivity, and can even be dangerous, if it leads to more mistakes or accidents. For workers themselves, excessive working hours severely disrupt their own family lives.  

The management of working hours is inextricably linked to the buying practices of companies in the supply chain as a whole. With a fashion industry seeking to shorten turnaround times from launch of new designs to in-store availability, production sites are required to respond ever more quickly. If orders cannot be completed without forcing further overtime, then the alternatives of increasing use of casual labour, sub-contracting of work to other production sites or to homeworkers can introduce further risks into the supply chain. 

Take Action

Companies can support responsible working hours by:

  • checking (e.g. through audits or other worker engagement processes) that rules on working hours and overtime are compliant with national laws and with any collective agreement with trade unions or workers’ organisations; 
  • ensuring any overtime is voluntary, and paid at an enhanced rate;
  • ensuring that workers are being given adequate days off, at least one every seven-day period or equivalent;
  • improving wages for core working hours, so workers do not feel they have to work excessive overtime to earn a living wage;
  • improving coordination between suppliers and customers over purchasing, ordering and turnaround times, to understand the impact of last-minute changes to orders.

For more information

ETI Base Code on Working Hours and further guidance

ILO briefing on Working Hours in the Garment Industry 

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