Jerusalem Post Editorial: Getting in sync

If it does so, it will become the first major Israeli economic institution to thereby adapt to the world economy, according to TASE chairman Amnon Neubach.

April 2, 2016 21:57
3 minute read.
Stock market

A pedestrian looks at an electronic board showing the stock market indices of various countries outside a brokerage in Tokyo.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Next year, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange plans to change its trading schedule to align with most of the world, operating Monday through Friday.

If it does so, it will become the first major Israeli economic institution to thereby adapt to the world economy, according to TASE chairman Amnon Neubach.

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This dramatic change would itself sync with the latest proposed alteration of Israel’s work schedule: creating a weekend. Last week, as The Jerusalem Post’s Knesset Correspondent Lahav Harkov reported, MKs Eli Cohen (Kulanu) and David Amsalem (Likud) proposed a compromise bill: Instead of a drastic change, the legislators propose a three-day weekend, Friday-Sunday, once a month. The legislation would entail a three-year trial run, after which the Knesset would vote on making every Sunday a day of leisure.

Israelis have been contemplating tampering with the Zionist work ethic ever since the 1960s, when prime minister Levi Eshkol reportedly asked David Ben-Gurion about moving the country to an official five-day work week. Ben-Gurion is alleged to have replied: “Why start with so many? Let’s start with one full day, then two full days, and gradually increase to five days.”

Where did the idea of a 40-hour work week with a two-day weekend come from? In an interview in World’s Work magazine in 1926, motor magnate Henry Ford explained why he switched his assembly line workers from a six-day, 48-hour work week to a five-day, 40-hour work week – but still paid them the same wages: “Leisure is an indispensable ingredient in a growing consumer market, because working people need to have enough free time to find uses for consumer products, including automobiles.”

Thus the world standard of a five-day week came to be in great measure to further the goal of increasing consumption. On the other hand, moving to a long weekend – as 74.7 percent of the world’s population have – may improve the quality of life for individuals and families. From an economic perspective, it would increase tourism and put business days in sync with overseas.

Cohen, the Kulanu MK, also argued that Sundays off would stimulate the expansion of recreational activities and enable religiously observant people to benefit from them, while providing all families with the opportunity to spend more quality time together.

Some economists argue, however, that Israel already has very low worker productivity compared with other countries. One consequence of this is that Israelis have to work longer hours to make ends meet.

“I think this would definitely have a negative effect on output for workers and on wages, and on the standard of living,” said Gilad Brand, a researcher at the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel. “This would most likely result in less output and maybe lower wages in the long run.”

On the other hand, many businesses would benefit from the change, with more people stimulating the economy by shopping and eating out on leisurely weekends.

Indeed, Dan Carmely, CEO of the Federations of Israeli Chamber of Commerce, has said that a “Sunday civil day off” could create thousands of jobs. Among these would be part-time jobs for “students and workers in the trade and service sectors, restaurants, cafes and entertainment venues.” The industrialist wrote that “the wheels of the Israeli economy will move faster with greater intensity.”

Another long-time champion of Sundays for leisure is Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky. He feels that having the country share having Sundays off would reduce social and religious tensions and foster opportunities for positive interaction between observant and secular Israelis.

Not everyone is enthralled with the idea, with some arguing that you can’t live in the Middle East and pretend you are in Europe. Israel has, however, always been on the cusp, with its culture being derived from the vastly diverse makeup of its population.

We agree with Carmely and Sharansky that easing into a “Sunday off” way of living could bring many benefits to our stressful society. And we wholeheartedly applaud Cohen and Amsalem’s proposal as a positive attempt to get things rolling.

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