Share this article

print logo

Iraq weighs shortening workdays to avoid heat

Iraq's government, already infamous for its lethargy and red tape that has snarled national progress, may soon shut down for much of the summertime.

A proposed new law, which a parliamentary committee plans to discuss today, aims to shorten workdays and help public employees avoid searing temperatures that commonly exceed 120 degrees and blanket the country during summer's peak. It will also cut work hours during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan that begins in late July, Younadam Kanna, chairman of parliament's labor and social affairs committee, said Saturday.

But Iraq is already feeling the heat from its people and foreign partners. Experts say its government largely has failed to overcome decades of war, sanctions and military occupation and settle into a new democratic system that delivers reliable security, electricity and other public services, or fosters job growth. Much of the government's work has been slowed by a political crisis, fueled by ethnic and sectarian tensions, that flared immediately after U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq last December and has produced demands for the Shiite prime minister's ouster.

"The employees in our ministries are looking for any pretext to run away from their offices," Jassim al-Obeidi, a real estate agent in Baghdad, said Saturday. "I think that this measure will add more delay to the work in the government offices, and the only damaged party will be the ordinary people who will have to spend more time and efforts trying to finish their paperwork for the government."

Kanna, a member of parliament's tiny Christian political coalition, said the new law should not significantly affect the government work. But he said it is still not decided how short workdays might be cut. He also declined to comment on whether it would apply to security forces, lawmakers or top ministry officials.

"We think that the proposed measure is necessary for government employees, especially those who work in the streets, construction sites or open fields," Kanna said Saturday. "Working under high temperatures for a long time will definitely affect the health of the employees or workers."

Last week, the U.S.-based Fund for Peace ranked Iraq No. 9 on its annual Top Ten list of failed states worldwide. The nonpartisan research group ranked 178 nations and cited persisting security problems in Iraq, like the attacks that have killed more than 160 people so far this month, amid few improvements in soothing the long-standing ethnic and sectarian tensions. Other groups highlight corruption as a key obstacle undercutting development and trust in state institutions.

But Iraqis frequently complain that languid administration compounds the problems caused by instability and corruption.

Like many Muslim countries, official work in Iraq usually grinds to a halt during Ramadan, which this year begins July 20. But the law would for the first time legalize the slowdown for the country's government.

Lawmakers earn an estimated $22,500 each month in salary and allowances for housing and security. In contrast, a midlevel government employee makes around $600 a month.

Education ministry employee Abas al-Saadi welcomed the extra time, noting that "there are a lot of holidays in this country during the year and few more hours off will not hurt."