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Working hours reform piloted
( 2003-12-09 23:40) (China Daily)

It was 8:10 in the morning. But Wang, a civil servant in Lanzhou, was still doing exercises in a park.

"I am a sport enthusiast, but I had no time to do it in the morning in the past,'' says Wang.

Last week he bought a monthly ticket from the park. He now walks to his office every morning after doing exercises. "I feel fresh all day now,'' he says.

As of December 1, a new working-hours timetable was launched in governmental departments and institutions in the western province of Gansu.

Civil servants do not have to rush to their offices at 8 am from Monday to Friday. Instead, they have an extra half an hour to have a relaxed breakfast or shun traffic jams. The afternoon hours are still from 2:30 pm to 6 pm after a lunch break from 12 noon.

Hailed as pilot schemes of a nationwide reform on working hours, similar new timetables have been used in the northern Hebei Province, southwestern Chongqing Municipality and some eastern cities including Nanjing and Hangzhou.

The new schemes, which have changed the 8 am to 6 pm working hours system to that of 9 am to 5 pm, are believed to enhance working efficiency and help change bureaucratic working styles. Working staff have only one hour for lunch.

"The officials will not have much time to waste on lavish eating and drinking during lunchtime,'' said working hour reform advocate Chen Linfu, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). "Besides, earlier working hour in the afternoon will provide convenience for citizens who want to find them in office.''

But experts warn that the reform on working hours should not be duplicate throughout the country. Reform or not, or how to reform, they said, must be appropriate to local situations.

Deyang, a medium-sized inland city in southwestern Sichuan Province, might be the boldest pioneer in the country.

Last summer the local government introduced an "internationalized'' timetable, which started at 9 am and ended at 5 pm, with an one-hour break at noon. Before that, the civil servants went to work at 8 am and went home at 6 pm, and broke between 12 am to 2 pm.

But the scheme lasted only during the summer. It was dropped simply because local people in such a small city have been used to going home for lunch, and "I found nothing to do before 9 in the morning,'' said Yu Dengrong, a senior civil servant.

"The new timetable may only work fine in big cities, I think,'' he said.

There are also doubts about who benefit from the reform. So far, most of the reforms include only civil servants.

"It is unfair that only civil servants get reduced working hours while people working in other sectors don't,'' a message commented on a news website.

"Does a cut in working hours necessarily enhance their efficiency?'' another questioned.

Tong Zhimin, a labour expert and professor at Renmin University of China, agreed that here lies a question of equality, if the reform does not include other sectors.

"All workers must be treated the same according to the Labour Law,'' said Tong.

He stressed that relevant measures must be taken to make sure the initial expectation of enhancing efficiency be realized.

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