The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has proposed to change the weeked to Friday and Saturday to increase national productivity. (photo: Waheed Orya)
The Cabinet is reviewing a draft bill to bring the days of the Afghan weekend closer to international standards. The current weekend falls on Thursdays and Fridays for most state employees in Afghanistan, clashing with the standards of some of the country's biggest trade partners, which observe the weekend on Saturday and Sunday.
The import-reliant country consequently comes to a standstill for four days each week. On the three remaining days, the roads of major cities congest as companies rush goods and services to their destinations.
"We will be on the same track as the international market," says Khan Jan Alokozai, deputy director of the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce, which is lobbying the government in favor of the bill. "If you look at the international markets, most of them are closed on Saturdays."
Alokozai recommends the government change the weekend to Friday and Saturday, which would bring the country closer to Western standards while maintaining the sanctity of Friday in Muslim countries.
Clockwise from top left: A Saturday in China, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan. Cartoon by Uzra Shamal
Current Afghan labour law designates a six-day work week at 8 hours per day, or 1832 hours a year. But in the capital and at most state institutions, employees work a five-day week, with Thursdays and Fridays off. The Ministry of Labuor and Social Affairs proposes to add an extra hour to each workday to make up for the time lost by extending the weekend to Saturday state-wide.
The Cabinet has approved a version of the bill "in principle," according the ministry's deputy director Wasel Noor Mohmand, and is considering its submission to Parliament.
President Ashraf Ghani pledged to streamline weekends and decrease the number of state holidays during his election campaign. However, the current plan clashes with previous efforts to decrease traffic and air pollution by closing state institutions on Thursdays.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs previously submitted two bills to Cabinet during Hamid Karzai's administration, said Mohmand, but both versions were rejected.
In Kabul, public opinion on the new potential weekend time varies by profession. While the business community supports the bill, others believe the government should instead focus on raising the overall effectiveness of the Afghan workforce.
Esmat Muradi, a public sector employee, recommended the government extend the work week to six days for both state and private-sector workers. "If this day is announced as a holiday, government employees will still receive a day of pay without working instead of learning to work more for less," he said.
But Zaman, who works for a private media company, said the state should apply the same workweek standards for all types of laborers. "The human brain and soul need rest," he said. "The rights of employees are being ignored by both private and state-run companies."