Not the time to shorten working hours

office hourSome people may have been too quick to criticise the government’s refusal to reduce civil servants’ daily working hours from eight to six.

Critics who say that it would be only right for Malaysia to follow the trend seen in advanced countries have perhaps ignored Malaysian realities.

For years, our bloated civil service, which accounts for 11 per cent of the nation’s workforce, has been criticised for its lack of productivity.

We’ve often heard of complaints that members of the public are ill served by some government agencies because only a handful of dedicated counters would be open at any one time.

Then there are the complaints about civil servants chatting with one another while serving the public or taking long coffee breaks during working hours.

Another thing to consider is the number of public holidays and long weekends in Malaysia, which far exceeds the numbers in many countries. Work comes to a halt on these days, and this is frustrating not only to ordinary members of the public who require government services, but also to businessmen who have to deal with government agencies.

This is not to say that all civil servants are not pulling their weight or that there are no malingerers in the private sector. But then, taxpayers do not pay the salaries of those who work in the private sector.

The real issue is not the number of hours civil servants work but how much work they get done. Perceptions about the poor productivity of our civil servants will persist as long as government departments are seen as ideal work places for those who love a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere and are not keen on pulling their weight.

While a six-hour work day may be right for certain countries, it should be seen as a privilege in Malaysia, especially when we’re speaking of the civil service.

Perhaps the idea can be revisited some time in the future, when the civil service has managed to convince the public of its efficiency.