Time for a long weekend

According to the Interior Ministry, there was a relatively high 55% voter turnout, almost 10% higher than the figure in local elections five years ago.

ELECTION POSTERS are displayed in Jerusalem in May, 2018. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
ELECTION POSTERS are displayed in Jerusalem in May, 2018.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
For the first time on Tuesday, Israelis enjoyed a public holiday on Election Day to enable them to vote in municipal elections.
According to the Interior Ministry, there was a relatively high 55% voter turnout, almost 10% higher than the figure in local elections five years ago. 
Still, two days after Israel moved its clocks one hour back at the end of the summer, even those who voted were able to enjoy a full day’s holiday in balmy weather – and we could not help but wonder what happened to the long-discussed proposal for a long weekend in the country.
At present, most Israelis have a weekend that starts on Friday afternoon and ends on Saturday night. This is probably the shortest weekend of any country in the world, but for religiously observant Jews and Muslims – who rest respectively on Saturdays and Fridays – there is little time to actually enjoy a day off and go hiking or visit places of culture or entertainment with their families. Sundays off would also allow Israeli Christians to attend church and observe their holy day.
Under a proposal presented by MK Eli Cohen (Kulanu) to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation in June 2016, the Knesset was due to pass a law for Israel to move to six three-day weekends (Friday to Sunday) per year – the first stage in ultimately moving the country to a five-day work week. Cohen’s plan would have initially given workers an additional 12 days of vacation annually in return for working an extra 15-20 minutes a day.
Cohen said at the time that Israelis work an average of 43 hours a week, compared to the OECD average of 40 hours. He argued that working too many hours lowers productivity, pointing to OECD studies showing that the Israeli workforce has relatively low productivity compared with hours worked.
“Moving to a long weekend will dramatically change the characteristics of labor, and has many benefits including reducing exhaustion of workers, improving the balance between work and family life, improving quality of life, contributing to economic branches like trade and tourism, and synchronizing vacation days between schoolchildren and their parents,” Cohen said at the time. “This issue has a significant effect on the quality of life of each and every one of us. It will be possible to spend time with the family, to reduce workers’ burnout and to increase the consumption of culture and sports by the public, in particular the religious and traditional population.”
Cohen’s proposal for six long weekends annually was due to begin in 2017, reducing the work load every two months by 8.5 hours. But the move never materialized. Instead, the government decided to shorten the official workweek by one hour to 42 hours, without cutting pay, beginning April 1. It was the first time that Israel’s workweek was cut since 1995, and it slightly eased the load on Israeli workers – but not significantly.
Many Israelis still work six days a week, and the idea of bringing the country in line with the rest of the world and instituting a five-day work week is long overdue. The idea has been discussed for many years in the Knesset. Silvan Shalom (Likud), a former interior minister, spearheaded a campaign for a long weekend from 2011 to 2014, garnering support across the board from ministers such as Arye Deri (Shas) and Tzipi Livni (Kadima). But he failed in his mission, mostly because of opposition at the time from the Histadrut labor federation and the Manufacturers’ Association, which argued that it would diminish productivity and harm the economy.
They have since softened their stands, and most economists today agree that synchronizing Israel’s workweek with the rest of the world and introducing an extra day of leisure will be good for the economy, reduce the level of daily stress for all Israelis, and ultimately benefit the country.
Now that the municipal elections are drawing to a close and there is talk of an early national election, this is the perfect opportunity to resuscitate the idea of a long weekend. Israelis had a taste of freedom on Tuesday; what a difference having Sundays off could make.


Tags Weekend