Never on Sunday

Silvan Shalom's plan creates a work week that's an ungainly mixture of days too long and too short.

matcot beach 521 (photo credit: REUTERS)
matcot beach 521
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It’s a lazy, hazy Sunday morning in 2015, Israel’s first long weekend. Binyamin Netanyahu, busy fighting anti-boycott lawsuits filed after he defended his 2010 settlement-construction freeze by saying he would do it again if he had to, is no longer prime minister. Silvan Shalom is running the country, having ridden on a wave of popular support for his legislation creating a long weekend.
In your bathrobe and slippers, you walk to the front door to pick up your Sunday paper. But where is the magazine section, and all the supplements? Ah, yes, they publish all those on Friday; they’re not going to do it again on Sunday. Now what’ll you do? Your wife already said she didn’t want to take the kids out; she now works an extra hour every day, and a half-day on Friday, to build up time for the new day off, and she’s tired. Anyhow, as she annoyingly points out, your overdraft at the bank hasn’t gotten any smaller just because you have Sundays off.
Come to think of it, you’re tired, too. You spent an hour in traffic going to the office on Friday and another hour going back. All that commuting for a four-hour day during which nothing much got done. You were back home long before your first American customers got to work, and your big British customer was only at his desk at 11 a.m.
Israel time. By the time he called you back two hours later, you were already heading out. Your assistant, who keeps Shabbat, didn’t come in at all. She said she would work from home while preparing the cholent.
Yeah, of course.
The long weekend idea is popular with the public, but more likely than not that first Sunday of 2015 will find you trudging off to work as usual, because the arguments in favor of a Sunday off don’t withstand scrutiny.
Shalom, the politician who has taken up the cause of Sundays, says it will bring calm and harmony to nervous Israelis. That’s hard to believe. The extent to which Israelis aren’t calm is a result of their being threatened by war and terrorism. By turning the peace process into an existential threat to be avoided at all costs, the government has blocked the hopeful alternative. Having Sundays off would just create more time to stew.
But are Israelis really all that troubled? We score ourselves an average of 7.4 on the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) life satisfaction survey. Even without the boost from a Bloody Mary Sunday brunch, Israelis rate themselves more satisfied than the French, Germans and Italians. Israel’s homicide rate – a possible barometer of distress – is on the high side. But more murders take place on weekends than weekdays, so better to keep them short.
Admittedly joy and serenity are hard to measure, but fortunately economics is much easier. And there the case for Saturday- Sunday weekends is lost for good. True, the economy is growing smartly, the unemployment rate is falling, and Israelis work like dogs. We put in an average of 1,898 hours annually, more than the average for OECD countries. We deserve Sundays off, you could argue. Let the Europeans labor to keep Greece afloat, it’s not our problem.
But we have two very serious problems.
The first is that too many Israelis don’t work at all, and the country’s labor productivity is among the lowest of the OECD states – about 41 percent lower than America’s, and behind anywhere in Western Europe except Portugal.
But hold on there. Aren’t we supposed to be the world’s hi-tech wonder? The economy that stayed dry while the rest of the West was flooded by an ocean of mortgage debt? Of course, Israel is those things, but only a small part of the economy – the technology sector, mainly – is really miraculous.
Large swathes are inefficient. We have to work longer to maintain our standard of living – and, unfortunately, the standard of those who don’t work.
In any event, most of us already have a two-day weekend, with Friday playing the part of Sunday (or more like an American Saturday). Most people don’t work, except retail and restaurant staff, who will also be expected to work on Sundays under the new regime. Everyone else would work a little bit longer Monday through Thursday and then put in half a day on Friday, so that on paper the number of hours worked would add up to about five days.
The result is a work week that is an ungainly mixture of days too long and too short. If Saturday and Sunday become days of rest, Fridays become days of waste. How much work is going to get done in a three or four-hour day? How many people will stay until 2 p.m. in the winter? How much will it put Israel in line with the West, when there will be no overlap with the US, and only a couple of hours with Europe? How much will productivity fall in the final hour of those extra-long Mondays through Thursdays? With the case against Sunday so clear, one can only assume Shalom has other, less noble causes, such as self-promotion in a politically crowded field. The list of idiotic and demagogic legislation that appeals to voters’ base instincts is now so long that it’s hard to attract any attention with more.
Like the boycott law and the Nakba Law, the long-weekend drive is populist nonsense, but it stands out because it doesn’t relate to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Or maybe it does. For those who believe that Jews have a monopoly on all rights and privileges in this country, Shalom’s plan ignores the 20% of the country that is Muslim/ Arab and would prefer Fridays off.
The writer is executive business editor at The Media Line. His book Israel: The Knowledge Economy and Its Costs will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012.