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"8 + 1 = 8": What Passes for an Eight Hour Day in Vancouver

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I'm not certain that this is a Vancouver peculiarity or is this a more widespread problem, but I would really like to know what happened to paid lunches and actual eight-hour days. The cliché standard working hours are, of course, 9-to-5, including lunch and coffee-breaks. Yet try and find a 9-to-5 job in Vancouver. What you will find is 8-to-5 more often than not, and despite the span of nine hours this is called "an eight hour day" by "virtue" of an unpaid, one-hour lunch crammed in there somewhere.

Let's look back at the origin of the eight-hour day and consider this phenomenon. Eight-hour days were pioneered by that brilliantly exploitive icon of American industrialism, Henry Ford at his factory in Detroit. It dawned on Henry that the then standard ten-hour shifts were only generating, at best, eighteen hours of productivity since it took an hour to start up the assembly line and another hour to shut it down at the end of the day. By running three shifts he could eliminate the need to stop and start the factory and gain an additional four hours of productivity on top of the two hours saved, going from eighteen productive hours a day to a full twenty-four. He chose to pay his employees the same for eight hours that he had previously been paying them for ten. Not worked to exhaustion, productivity on all three shifts was higher than the old ten-hour shifts and the Model-T dominated the auto market for decades to come. It's also notable that Ford was the first major employer to have five-day workweeks rather than six. This was nearly a century ago.

Now fast-forward to the twenty-first century and we are apparently ruled by aliens from a planet with twenty-seven hour days, where three of these "8 + 1 = 8" shifts fit into a day. These are not "eight-hour days", they are a split-shift of two four hour blocks sandwiched around an unpaid break. This is, in fact, a skeezy way around the intent of B.C. Employment Standards Act.

The Employment Standards Act, 35(1) says "An employer must pay an employee overtime wages in accordance with section 40 if the employer requires, or directly or indirectly allows, the employee to work more than 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week." It's also required (section 32) that there be a minumum ½ hour meal break every five hours. If the employee is required to be available for work during the meal break, the break has to count as time worked. And it used to be that for every six hours or portion thereof an employee was entitled to one paid fifteen-minute break (meaning you'd have two 15-minute breaks in any given day) but that was repealed as one of the first acts of the neoconservative "Liberal Party" elected in 2001. So now the eight-hour day of the 20th century, which used to be a total of eight hours, including, two fifteen-minute breaks and a paid one-hour lunch, meaning actually working six and a half hours has gradually been turned into a nine-hour day with eight-hours of actual work with one break instead of three - for the same money.

The great irony of this is that the average office or retail worker really only works between four to six hours a day. This is unchanged despite the longer hours. Ford gained a huge bonus in productivity not only from getting six more useful hours out of his machinery, but from the fact that his less fatigued and happier workers produced more in their eight-hour days than they had previously done in ten, plus there was now another shift - the increace in productivity exceeded the increace in productive hours. I seriously wonder, given the amount of real work that gets done, how much offices and retail would benefit from having two five-hour shifts. Would people plow through their work, knowing they had an extra four hours a day to do their own thing and produce just as much as they do now in these "8 + 1 = 8" nine-hour days and productivity double from having two shifts a day? An office, bank, retail-outlet, etc. could be open 8-to-6, employ twice as many people, and get at least twice the amount of work done.

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