Shorter Working Week?

In light of rising oil consumption and the ballooning import bill owing to surging international prices, the government is considering the possibility of conserving fuel through reducing the number of working days in a week. In recent days, the government has been looking at a variety of measures to curtail the rising current account deficit and has also placed an import ban on a number of luxury items.

It appears that the government is being forced to evaluate multiple options to deal with this crisis as the country’s total oil import during the first 10 months (July-April) of the current fiscal year has gone beyond $17bn, showing a massive 96pc growth compared to the same period last fiscal year. As per reports, the government claims that by reducing the number of working days, it could end up saving an estimated annual foreign exchange in the range of $1.5 to $2.7 billion. These estimates have been calculated based on three different scenarios in terms of working days and fuel conservation by the State Bank of Pakistan.

This is something that could help reduce the strain if brought into play immediately, however the implementation of this will be key. The government must ensure that employers do not exploit workers behind the scenes and actually follow the guidelines, otherwise this will just end up being a cosmetic measure only to the detriment of the employees. Moreover, especially in urban centres with good internet coverage, hybrid working arrangements can be introduced to allow employees to work from home a couple of days during the week. While of course some sectors and companies were able to pilot this model in the pandemic, others will perhaps need to make requisite arrangements in order to transition to this model. This model has also proven to be better with regards to employee efficiency and overall satisfaction.

Nonetheless, these are still stop-gap measures that must be pursued in addition to more substantial ones if the government is to significantly reduce the import bill. It is important to remember that the main drivers of the import bill are the power, industrial and power sector. Additionally, the calculations by the SBP did not take into account LNG imports which mostly go into the power sector. Therefore, while such measures can be helpful, tougher decisions will have to be taken down the line.

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