Shalom presents long-weekend plan to business leaders

Deputy PM says moving weekend to Saturday and Sunday will bring Israel in line with world markets, have a positive social impact.

By NADAV SHEMER
March 17, 2011 16:45
3 minute read.
Silvan Shalom

silvan shalom 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

Vice Premier Silvan Shalom presented his plan to move the Israeli weekend to Saturday and Sunday to business leaders in Tel Aviv on Thursday.

At a meeting with roughly 30 leaders from the business sector, hosted by the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, Shalom said that moving from a Friday-Saturday weekend to a Saturday-Sunday weekend would bring Israel in line with the world markets – and make it a better place to live.

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“It will enable us to become a more normal country,” he said. “This is something that’s happening in a lot of countries around the world – and not just in the Christian world.

Many important countries have decided to move to Saturday and Sunday out of the knowledge that it will expand their economic activity, expand their accessibility to the world markets – and this has happened in not-so-small countries [including] China, India, Japan [and] Singapore.”

He added, “On Friday they [the rest of the world] work and we don’t – on Sunday they don’t work and we do – and when we are disengaged for three days, then it interferes a lot with exports, interferes a lot with the importers and of course interferes with the stock market.”

Shalom repeatedly stressed that the plan would not change the total amount of work hours. He said Israelis would continue to work an average of 42.5 hours each week, compared to the European Union average of 40, and to 35 hours in France.

Under his proposal, Friday would be a shorter work day – to account for the beginning of Shabbat – and workers would make up for those lost hours on Monday through Thursday.

Calling the plan the impetus for a “social revolution,” Shalom spoke about his vision of Sunday becoming a day for family and leisure activities, on which public transport and shopping centers would operate.

He said he envisioned a full day for holding professional sporting events, the opening of theaters and for conducting children’s activities.

“We today don’t have a weekend [for these activities],” he said. “On Sunday, when everything is open, commerce will be lively. Of course, people will be able to travel with public transport. It will be possible to take daytrips. Whether it’s to come from the Galilee or the Negev to Tel Aviv, or from Tel Aviv to the Galilee or the Negev, it will be possible to conduct a suitably lengthy trip.”

The proposal was met with mixed reactions from industry figures, which included the heads of Willi Food, the Sakal Group, the Stier Group and leaders of local chambers of commerce.

While several said that they supported Shalom’s plan, others criticized it, saying, among other things, that it would naturally lead to workers expecting a decrease in the amount of work hours, and force businesses to pay increased weekend rates to employees.

Shalom responded by saying that there was no difference between Friday and Sunday – only that daily work hours would be reallocated by making Sunday a weekend. He added that if businesses did not currently pay employees weekend rates on Fridays, then those same regulations would apply to Sundays.

Several of the business leaders also said the plan would have a negative social impact because it would put more pressure on lower-middle income families to fund their children’s increased leisure time during daylight hours.

In response, Shalom said that Israel is a free country, and that its citizens could not be told what to do with their spare time. He conceded that people are naturally skeptical – but he believed businesses, workers and the wider public would all eventually support the plan – although it would take them time to get used to the changes once implemented.

Shalom added that he had already received a positive reaction from members of Knesset and from other key decision-makers, including Histadrut Labor Federation Chairman Ofer Eini, who he said reacted with “deep understanding” to his proposal.


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