Most countries legally stipulate the number of working hours employees can work per week. Local labour laws will generally have provisions for the maximum amount of overtime as well, giving flexibility to working hours but also protecting workers from potential exploitation as this is also a very real threat for white-collar workers.
When employing remotely, you will need to be aware of the variation in working hours across your team so you can employ your remote talent compliantly. Though certain international standards prevail, different countries’ working hours vary a lot. What’s more, while labour laws set standards, the reality can still be quite different. For example, men tend to work longer hours in paid employment compared to women, particularly where maximum legal working hours are high. The amount of paid leave and public holidays also affects the total number of hours people work in a year.
Here we detail different regions around the world, specific working time laws, and the actual average times spent working.
Legal working hours across Africa vary significantly. The annual average working hours also tend to be higher from a global perspective though again much variation exists amongst African countries.
The legal working hours in South Africa, for example, are a maximum of 45 hours per week. An employee can work a maximum of 9 hours a day for a 5 day work week, or 8 hours a day for a 5+ day work week. Overtime is voluntary and cannot exceed 10 hours a week. This is paid at a rate of 1.5 times the employee’s normal wage, or 2 times that if overtime occurs on a Sunday. According to the Penn World Table, the average hours worked in South Africa in 2017 was 2209, meaning that on average employees are working the maximum 45 hours a week, plus overtime.
In comparison, Nigeria’s average annual working hours were 1827 in 2017. Labour law stipulates a maximum 40 hour work week. Anything above is considered overtime. However, there are little to no provisions made for overtime and overtime compensation. These can be decided in individual employment contracts, through collective bargaining, or via an order by the industrial wage board.
Asia, Australasia & Oceania
Similar to Nigeria, China has a 40 hour work week. However, there is little regulation for overtime so in practice, the 40 hour work week isn’t enforced. The average annual working hours in China were close to South Africa’s in 2017 at 2174.
Some countries in the area have significantly reduced their legal working hours over the years. In South Korea, the legal working hours have been limited at 40 hours a week. But employees can agree to an additional 12 hours a week in overtime. This must be compensated with an additional 50% of ordinary wages. Recent average annual working hours are consequently rather high at 2063.
Labour laws in Australia stipulate a maximum 38 hour work week. Reasonable overtime is allowed, however, working hours must average at 38 hours a week over an extended period of time. The average annual working hours have improved slightly - around 1732 in 2017 or 1712 in 2019 according to the OECD.
Several European countries are known for having very low working hours. French employment law, for example, stipulates a 35 hour work week. The average annual working hours were 1505 in 2019.
Interestingly, in the Netherlands, the Working Hours Act states that employees can work a maximum of 60 hours a week. This is very high compared to all the countries we’ve seen so far. However, the rules for rest in between hours, days, and weeks of work are very strict. In addition, annual leave is also generous. Generally speaking, full-time employees in the Netherlands are actually working between 30 and 40 hours a week. Consequently, the comparatively low annual working hours averaged at 1434 in 2019.
The maximum legal working hours in Denmark, including overtime, are 48 hours a week. Similar to the Netherlands, there are strict rules regarding when rest must be granted and annual leave is generous. According to the OECD, Denmark had the lowest recorded average annual working hours in 2019 at 1380. Both these cases reveal that maximum working hours alone do not determine average working hours.
Compared to the European countries listed here, similar regulations apply to employees in federally regulated industries in Canada. There are industry and regional variations, but generally, employment law limits the workweek to a maximum of 48 hours, including overtime. A standard workweek is 40 hours, 8 hours per day. Overtime is allowed and must be paid at a rate of 1.5 times the normal wage. However, compared to its European counterparts, the average annual working hours in 2019 were higher at 1670 hours.
For non-exempt employees, the Fair Labor Standards Act stipulates a standard 40 hour workweek (excluding overtime) in the US. Anything above is considered overtime and must be paid at a rate of 1.5 times the normal wage. However, there is no limit on the amount of overtime or hours of work per week and little regulation of annual leave and rest periods. The average annual working hours in the US were rather high at 1779 hours in 2019.
Central & South America
Countries in Central and South America are famous for their stringent labour laws. In this region, contractually is virtually not done due to protective measures in local employment law. However, on average people are working rather long hours per year. This is despite the fact that annual leave practices are rather generous in the region.
Mexican labour law states that employees working during the day can work 48 hours per week (excluding overtime). Overtime is capped at 9 hours per week which must be paid at 100% of the normal wage. Any additional overtime must be paid at 200% of the normal wage. There is little regulation of rest periods and a minimum of 6 days paid annual leave after 1 year of service. In 2019, Mexico had the highest recorded average of 2137 annual working hours in the world.
Argentinian law similarly limits the workweek to 48 hours and 8 hours per day (including overtime). However, the regular work week is 44 hours a week. The average annual working hours were 1692 in 2017, significantly lower than in Mexico.