Significance of the time factor
The problem of working hours has until recently always been seen in purely quantitative terms. The aim has been to reduce the total time spent at work: (a) directly, by setting standard hours and overtime limits per day and week, and (b) indirectly, by prescribing spells of free time of varying length over longer periods of up to a year, in the form of public holidays and vacation leave.
While this approach is still useful in concrete cases, it is no longer adequate for present-day conditions. Modern developments have made it necessary to consider the qualitative aspects of the pattern of working hours, in the light of new thinking on the subject. What are needed now are ways of working less hours, differently and better, so as to achieve - without detriment to production and productivity - a balance between work, rest and leisure that meets the needs of the individual and of the community. This has involved analysis of working conditions and of the physical, economic and social environment of work, and the results have brought a new awareness of the importance of the time factor.
Since industrialisation began, the individual has increasingly been forced to surrender control of his time and, as a result, working time has had to be quantified in order to set a fair price for it. We now see that this cannot be done in monetary terms alone. The well-worn saying that "time is money" has fallen out of use, since it considers only what an individual earns - but not what he sacrifices - by working for a given time.
This brings us to a further question: what does a worker's pay really represent? Whether the criterion is muscular, mental or nervous effort, skill or know-how, the remuneration is always the result of multiplying the physical or mental qualifications by a time coefficient: time spent working, time devoted to vocational training or time lost at work - this last element representing a loss of "living time". Looked at in this way, remuneration clearly embodies an element of compensation for loss of time. The time dimension is now an inherent part of an individual's conditions of work and the main factor in the constantly rising social cost.
As a result, people are beginning to be conscious of how their time is spent, and to want to exercise choice in using it as profitably, agreeably and sensibly as possible.
For those living today, time means something radically different from time in the olden days. Work was then spread over the hours of daylight, without a set timetable. The human time-pattern corresponded to the alternations in nature and to human psychological and biological needs.
All this has been changed by industrialisation. Our way of life today follows a job and production engineering model that favours productivity at the expense of the natural needs and deeper motivations of the individual. We are reaching a point where the pattern of working hours ceases to correspond to human physiological and biological rhythms, since machines can function regardless of the natural divisions of time. Time is becoming a scarce and therefore more costly factor and is divided up into ever-smaller segments. As Pierre Naville puts it, it is now the prize in a bitter conflict between working for somebody else and working for oneself and the whole community.1
Two other factors have contributed to the startling increase in the value of the time factor. It is one of the parameters in measuring productivity, and we are only too aware of the priority given to this in modern industrial societies. At the same time, many kinds of work are unpleasant and the price for time spent on them is accordingly increasing. The price may be paid in cash or, when a given level of prosperity is attained, in the form of extra time off. As Grossin has pointed out, the reason why workers hand over control of their working days is that they want fuller enjoyment of their non-working time, which is for them a period of "de-alienation".2
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