The World Today for February 28, 2023

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KENYA

Move over, quiet quitting. Employees who are sick and tired of bosses calling them after the end of the business day and at weekends are pushing for laws to maintain boundaries between work and non-work time.

In Kenya, for example, lawmakers have proposed a law that would grant workers the right to ignore their boss’s calls unless they are on the clock, reported CBS News. If workers respond while off duty, furthermore, they are entitled to compensation.

“Technology has led to employees being called late at midnight and yet some of them are non-essential staff,” Kenyan senator Samson Cherargei told the Star, a local newspaper. “Most of these issues have led to (the) breakdown of families and lack of quality time.”

An employer association, the Federation of Kenya Employers, said the proposal was an intrusion into the private sector that would make it harder for companies to hire workers and more difficult for officials to entice firms operating on the black market to become legitimate, wrote the Monitor, an Uganda-based newspaper.

Such debates are raging around the world. After France enacted a similar law in 2017, researchers said workers become more productive due to more leisure time, according to research cited in Quartz. German car giant Volkswagen even turns off its email servers after work ends, added National Public Radio. Others, however, say the so-called “right to disconnect” hamstrings those who want to work and earn more.

Remote working is also helping to drive the issue. Working from home or other non-office locations can increase workers’ “well-being and work engagement,” but only if they work regular hours, the World Economic Forum noted. Otherwise, work takes over one’s life and the benefits of remote work plummet.

Other dimensions of the issue complicate that story, however. Laws stipulating the right to disconnect really only apply to knowledge workers, argued Toronto Metropolitan University professional communication professor Ope Akanbi in the Conversation. Ambulance drivers, for example, work in person or they’re not working at all. Lawyers, doctors, media, marketing and other professionals easily blend work and life, on the other hand. The government won’t alter their situations. They need to figure out their own work-life balances.

Filipinos are now addressing those questions. Michael Tan, a columnist for the Philippines-based English-language newspaper the Inquirer, largely supported a right-to-disconnect bill now under consideration in the capital of Manila. But he noted that he wouldn’t want the law to prevent him from taking after-hours meetings with others in different time zones.

Whether one is a lawmaker or a middle manager, micromanaging the world’s workers is arguably folly.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Tinkering With Votes

MEXICO

Tens of thousands of Mexicans marched in the streets across the country Sunday to protest President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s overhaul of the electoral system, a move many critics believe will threaten democracy and influence next year’s elections, Bloomberg reported.

Demonstrations took place in more than 100 Mexican cities, with more than 100,000 people protesting in the capital Mexico City, according to the New York Times.

The anti-government protests – the second round in nearly four months – began over the president’s plan to undermine the autonomy of Mexico’s election body, the National Electoral Institute (INE).

López Obrador poured scorn on such concerns in a statement Monday, going so far as to link protesters to drug traffickers,  CNN reported.

Last week, the parliament’s upper chamber passed a bill that would cut the agency’s workforce, decrease funding, and limit its capacity to punish politicians who break electoral law. The bill’s approval came after the government failed to achieve a broader overhaul that required changing the constitution.

López Obrador has said the INE is untrustworthy, adding that the overhaul will save millions of dollars and improve the voting system. But election officials and opposition politicians condemned the move as an attempt to tamper with presidential elections in July 2024.

Opposition parties said they will ask the country’s Supreme Court to annul the legislation.

Analysts noted, however, that questions remain about whether Mexico’s battered opposition can secure support from disenchanted voters ahead of the presidential polls.

Polls show that López Obrador remains widely popular, with a 54 percent job approval rating.

Loaded Mystery

CHINA

China rejected new allegations about the origin of the coronavirus pandemic after the US Department of Energy concluded this week that Covid-19 most likely came from a lab leak, The Hill reported Monday.

Over the weekend, a new report showed that the Energy Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation think that a mishap at a Chinese laboratory resulted in the spread of the virus that has killed more than six million people worldwide, the Wall Street Journal noted.

But the Energy Department reached its judgment with “low confidence,” while other unnamed agencies suggested that the pathogen spread by natural transmission from an infected animal.

Following the report’s release, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning dismissed the findings, saying that the issue should not be politicized. She cited a 2021 World Health Organization-China joint study that concluded that the lab leak theory was “extremely unlikely.”

Meanwhile, US officials countered that the recent assessment displays “a variety of views” from the intelligence community on Covid-19’s origins and hasn’t come up with a “definitive answer” to the question.

Holding Tightly

IRAQ

Hundreds of Iraqis protested in the capital Baghdad on Monday to oppose an election bill that critics say would undermine independent candidates, the Associated Press reported.

The current law, which applied to the 2021 election, divides each of the country’s 18 provinces into multiple electoral districts.

That legislation was a key demand of the mass anti-government demonstrations that gripped Iraq in late 2019. Many supporters of the current law believe it gives independent candidates a boost.

But the new draft bill would increase the size of the country’s electoral districts, returning Iraq to one district per governorate. The proposal is supported by the Coordination Framework, a coalition of Iran-backed parties that currently form the dominant group in parliament.

Last week, parliament debated the bill but the discussion ended early after independent lawmakers – objecting to the proposal – walked out of the session.

Monday’s demonstrations come shortly a day after Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid told the AP that Iraq is now peaceful, democratic and intent on rebuilding the lives of its people nearly two decades after the ousting of the autocrat Saddam Hussein by US-led forces.

DISCOVERIES

Flushing the Mystery

Archaeologists in China discovered a 2,400-year-old flush toilet, considered to be the oldest known in the world, CNN reported.

Researchers came across the ancient lavatory while inspecting the old palace ruins at the Yueyang archaeological site in the central city of Xi’an.

They described the sanitary artifact as a “luxury object,” noting that it was installed inside the palace with a pipe leading to an outdoor pit. Servants were then tasked to pour water into the toilet bowl every time it was used, they added.

“The flush toilet is concrete proof of the importance the ancient Chinese attached to sanitation,” said Liu Rui, a researcher at the Institute of Archeology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, who was part of the excavation team.

He explained that there were very few records of indoor toilets in ancient times, adding that the sanitary object was reserved for high-ranking officials during the Warring States Period (475 – 221 BCE) and the later Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE).

He and his team suggested that the finding also offers a rare insight into ancient China’s privileged and ruling elite.

Archaeologists are now studying soil samples gathered from the toilet to determine what people ate at the time.

Meanwhile, the discovery adds to the ongoing mystery of who came up with flush toilets.

Historians generally credit English courtier John Harington for inventing the flush toilet in the 16th century. Harington reportedly installed one such toilet for Queen Elizabeth I.

Even so, excavations in northwest India have found 4,000-year-old drainage systems that may have been toilets, according to the British Association of Urological Surgeons.

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