US employees top league in working hours

THE AVERAGE American clocks up more hours of work in a year than his or her counterpart in any other industrialised country, and many developing ones, according to a new international compendium of figures on employment. Annual hours worked have been climbing in the US but falling almost everywhere else in the world.

By 1997 the average US worker put in 1,966 hours a year, almost two weeks more than the average Japanese, on 1,889 hours. Europeans work even less, with the average 1,731 hours in the UK and 1,559 in Germany.

Even though people in developing countries have typically worked far longer than workers in the developed world, US working time has overtaken annual hours in Korea and almost caught up to notoriously hard-working Hong Kong and Singapore.

The confirmation that Americans are increasingly overworked by international standards comes in a yearbook of statistics from the International Labour Organisation. Published today, it also reports that in the UK two-fifths of workers put in more than 40 hours a week, more than most other European countries - although not as much as the US, where the figure is 70 per cent.

Only 7 per cent of people in the Netherlands work such long hours. But the UK, along with the Netherlands, has a relatively high share of part- time jobs in total employment. In the UK 23 per cent of employees are part time, and 29 per cent in the Netherlands. Part-time work is less common in many other countries, including the US and France.

Although Americans have been working longer hours, Europeans have been catching up in productivity. Lawrence Jeff Johnson, an ILO economist, said: "The productivity race is like a never-ending marathon in which the US worker today is ahead of the pack, but a significant number of competitors - notably Japan, Korea and the major European countries - are picking up speed."

The yearbook reports that it is in the UK that employees in manufacturing have seen the biggest gains in real wages since 1990. They rose 13 per cent between 1990 and 1997, a figure exceeded by only Japan and the Netherlands.

"Key Indicators of the Labour Market 1999", pounds 75.60; International Labour Office, http://www.ilo.org/public

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