60-hour work week? We could learn from this.

I had to chuckle, and chuckle somewhat derisively at that, when I read the media responses to the purported abuses in China related to the 60-hour work week.

The hysteria they have created is more of a critique on the lack of ambition and a desire to improve one’s lot in our society than it is a reflection of the abuses in China.

The 3.4% unemployment in Hong Kong combined with an 8% annual economic growth rate is not the result of a 35-hour work week and two month summer vacations which, in Europe, has become de rigueur.

The media betrays their lack of understanding of the life of a Chinese factory employee.

1.  The workers are migrants.  Where they work is not remotely close to their homes.  More often than not they live a jostling, two day, non-stop train ride from their homes.

2. They live in stifling factory dormitories that are seldom air-conditioned, many of which are located in the tropical coastal south.

3.  I would approximate the average age of the factory worker to be in their early twenties.  They are strong, healthy, ambitious, and most of them are single.  If, given the choice of holing up in their dormitory room designed to accommodate 6, but instead houses 12, or opting for additional work, their choice is obvious.

4.  Many of the migrant workers come from the family farm where the work is done by hand.  The estimated hourly income from working on the farm is 25 cents.  Working in a factory, they are paid close to $2.00 an hour, an 800% increase.  The goal of many is to work and save for five years before retiring to the family farm, most of which are a half acre or less.

5.  The Chinese are not prone to complain.  Over the millenia they have learned to adapt.  They accept the cards they are dealt.  They share an overwhelming optimism that life will improve.

6.  There are factors at work that are corroding the underpinnings of their society, factors that will have devastating affects in generations to come, but the 60 hour work week in not one of them.

I think back to when I was in my late teens.  Dan Pullium and I worked in the sawmills of British Columbia.  We lived in trailers, slept in bunk beds, and ate our meals in the mess hall along with 50 snoose-dipping Swedes.  We were as happy as a pair of great blue herons standing all alone in a stagnant marsh surrounded with spring peepers when we were offered overtime.  We felt slighted if we didn’t get it.  Due to a shortage of help, on one occasion I worked on the graveyard shift from Wednesday evening  straight through to the graveyard shift on Saturday morning, stacking lumber off the green chain.  I didn’t consider it abuse then, and I don’t consider it abuse now.

I have many close friends who are farmers.  A 60-hour work week is a walk in the park for them.

Many of the shops in our community owned by Amish and Mennonites advertise in our local papers that their hours are 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.  They’re just getting started at 60 hours.

Many of us have been involved in starting and managing our own businesses.  A 60-hour work week was something we lived with for years.  It went with the territory.

Amy Chua, the Chinese author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom, wrote candidly about the upbringing of her daughters.  She took a pounding from the press for her candor in pushing her children to excel.

There is conjecture that in less than 20 years the gross national economic output of China will exceed that of the United States.  Perhaps our vehement objection to the 60-hour work week is but one of the reasons we will continue to fall further, and further behind.  We’ve lost the willingness to word hard and make sacrifices.

 

 

 

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8 Responses to 60-hour work week? We could learn from this.

  1. Brendy says:

    It’s a hard balance, isn’t it? Many of us have been raised with a good work ethic, and have taken legitimate pride in our work and our work habits. But at the same time, it’s easy to make an idol out of our work — to find our identity in that. And I suspect that if we end our lives with any regrets, one of them just may be that we gave way more at the office than maybe we should have…

    • peter says:

      Interesting? I would end up at the other end of the spectrum – that many of us would, at the end of our lives, regret that we had not done more, that we had held back, that we were afraid to stretch ourselves beyond our limits for fear of failure – but actually, we’re talking two different things, and your comments are more in line with my blog – my comments are more in line with end of life reflections, a path you led me down!!

      Appreciate your comments as always.

  2. Brendy says:

    Petey, I think that you and I just did a great job of reflecting the repercussions of broken relationship with God, as laid out in Genesis 3!

    Just a couple of other thoughts, as I’ve re-read your blog…The workers in China that you describe: they had no family commitments or relationships available to them in their working conditions. And I suspect that the Amish who run their businesses 12 hours per day are working with family members, as are many of the farmers that you note.

    I agree with you that end of life regrets may well involve not taking more risks! But personally, I don’t think risking family relationships for work is a regret that I want to deal with.

  3. Brendy says:

    I was waiting for someone else to jump in, but no one has yet. I don’t think a 12 hour work day and good family relationships are always necessarily mutually exclusive. But if the 12 hour work day takes a person away from connecting — especially directly — with family, then it certainly would make a good relationship difficult.

    • peter says:

      I’ve found that a 12 hour work day, if married and with children, pushes most of the nurturing onto the wife, and does not provide the opportunity for strong father/children relationships, or at least they suffer in some way.

      But isn’t that the way it has always been? Hunter/gather – out on a two week elk hunt, then home, rest, eat, and head out again?!

  4. Leila Bolster says:

    Pete, then there were our Missionary parents who went out on a 3-year stint and left their family behind, all except their mate. I do not hear anyone criticizing them or their family relationships kept alive by a letter a week. You far excelled that standard. Working hard never hurt anyone, and certainly gave the family a good example of how to move forward in life and keep out of mischief. I’ll bet you and Dan Pulliam had some great laughs when you worked out there in the woods. When you are working hard doing something you love, in a place you love to be with someone you love, that is the best thing in the world to do!

    • peter says:

      Thanks, Leila! I’m not going to comment on the choices of our parents, as that is a mixed bag, but as for Dan Pullium and I, we did enjoy those lumber mills out in the bush!

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