Ministers approve bill for six long weekends a year

If okayed by Knesset, move proposed by lawmaker Eli Cohen would see Friday-Saturday-Sunday mini-vacations begin in 2017

Kulanu party member MK Eli Cohen attends a committee meeting at the Knesset, November 02, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Kulanu party member MK Eli Cohen attends a committee meeting at the Knesset, November 02, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved on Sunday a bill allowing Israelis six long weekends per year, starting next year.

The bill is the work of Kulanu MK Eli Cohen, who had initially proposed allowing three-day weekends, including Sunday, once a month, in a move toward eventually legislating Sundays off every week.

Israel currently has a Friday-afternoon-to-Saturday weekend that is based on the Jewish Sabbath and Muslim Friday prayers. Many Israelis do not work Fridays. But for religiously committed Jews, the Sabbath is a time when they cannot drive and are prevented by their religious observance from visiting most entertainment venues.

The proposal approved Sunday and now sent to the Knesset for a vote is for the six long weekends — Friday, Saturday, Sunday — to begin in 2017. Schoolkids, who’d have off with their parents too, wouldn’t be getting extra vacation days, though. Two of the days off would be during the summer, while the remaining four days would be deducted from the Passover and Hanukkah school vacations.

Cohen said the long weekends will change the face of Israeli industry.

“The move toward long weekends will dramatically change the characteristics of labor,” he said after the bill was approved, adding that the proposal is meant to “reduce workers’ burnout, increase the work-life balance, improve quality of life… and synchronize vacation days between pupils and their parents.”

Cohen cited OECD figures that show employees in member countries work an average of 40 hours per workweek, compared to Israelis’ average of 43 hours. He said that working long hours negatively affects productivity, noting studies that show Israeli productivity as relatively low compared to hours worked. The hours also affect worker’s welfare, and their ability to balance between their personal lives and their professional obligations, he argued.

The bill was approved following long talks with the Finance Ministry, the Histadrut Labor Federation and industry leaders, and will be put to a Knesset vote after a committee made up of representatives of coalition parties approve an outline of the proposal.

In 2014, then-energy minister Silvan Shalom proposed instituting a Saturday-Sunday weekend in Israel, drawing support from, among others, then-justice minister Tzipi Livni.

The idea had been kicked around for many years in the Knesset before Shalom started to spearhead a campaign in 2011. Economists differ on the merits of making Sunday part of the weekend, while taking half of Friday off in preparation for the Sabbath.

Those in favor argue that synchronizing Israel’s workweek with that of most of the world and having an extra day where all sectors of society can enjoy leisure activities would be good for the economy.

Those against the move say that the Friday-Saturday weekend is the most economically effective model, as observant Muslims and Jews are likely to work less efficiently on Fridays. According to critics of the plan, adding the missing Sunday work hours to the remaining workdays would lower productivity, as studies have shown that productivity diminishes during later hours of a workday.

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