Starting from around the 6th century BC, the Jews were probably the first community in world history to practise a continuous seven-day cycle without paying any attention to the phases of the moon, and kept the provision for a fixed day of rest. Subsequently, there was a 'Nundinae' in Ancient Rome for every eight days, which was observed as the market day. Historians claim that children were exempted from schools on that day; the plebeians ceased from working in the field and came to the city to sell their produce or practise religious rituals. The three Sabbaths or sacred days of the week, viz. Saturday (Jewish), Sunday (Christian) and Friday (Islamic) were prescribed by the three major monotheistic religious traditions of the world since the ancient era. Farther down the lanes of history, there were ten-day weeks in the French Revolutionary Calendar (called décades) during the late 18th and 19th century, which allowed people to observe one out of the ten days as a day for leisure and recreation.
As historians would tell, the present-day concept of 'week-ends' or weekly holidays first materialised in the industrial north of Britain during the early Nineteenth Century. The first five-day workweek in the United States was instituted by a New England cotton mill in 1908, so that the Jewish workers did not have to work on the Sabbath from the sunset of Friday to sundown Saturday. Henry Ford was the pioneer US industrialist to start shutting down his motor vehicle factories during Saturdays and Sundays. The Amalgamated Clothing Workers' Union of America, however, were the first to successfully demand a five-day work-week followed by two-day weekends in 1929. The rest of the United States slowly adopted this formula. But it was not before 1940 that the Fair Labour Standards Act mandated a maximum 40-hour work-week with a provision for two-day week-ends, which was implemented nationwide in the USA.
Over the succeeding decades, particularly in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, an increasing number of countries adopted mostly Saturday-Sunday weekends to harmonise with the international markets. A series of workweek reforms in the mid-to-late 2000s and early 2010s brought about unprecedented synchronisations in terms of working hours, length of the workweek and the days of weekend in a majority of the world's nations.
Sunday was the day of rest and worship in the Christian tradition, while the Jewish Sabbath lasted from the sunset of Friday to the fall of darkness on Saturday. Therefore, Saturday was added to Sunday as weekly holiday in most Western nations during the 20th century as the Jewish community wielded considerable influence. A number of Muslim majority nations historically observed Thursday-Friday or Friday-Saturday as weekends. However, many have now switched to Saturday-Sunday as weekly holiday due to their socio-economic compulsions as well as the need for uniformity and harmony at the global level.
In Bangladesh, there has been much debate in the past on the issue of weekly holidays. Even during the 1970s following the country's independence, the weekly holiday was Sunday. This was abruptly changed to Friday by the unpopular military dictator H M Ershad during the 1980s, as he sought to win some support from among the country's Muslim majority population. Then in the second half of 1990s, the then Awami League government opted for a 2-day weekly holiday by adding Saturday to Friday. Although the government offices still follow this prescription, many private sector organisations as well as educational institutions now remain open on Saturdays.
Demands have been raised in the past, especially by the private sector, for switching to Saturdays and Sundays as weekly holiday. They argued that this could be beneficial for the country's economy and would facilitate global business transactions, as a majority of the world's nations followed this. Besides, not all Muslim countries have adopted the Friday-Saturday weekend formula -- nearby example being the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. An initiative was taken by the caretaker government of 2007-08 for introducing Saturday and Sunday as weekly holidays. But the regime ultimately back-tracked fearing backlash from the Islamist segments.
Based on our previous experiences in the domain, the government may now look for a compromise formula that serves best the interests of the country's economy and society. For example, staggered holidays for the public and private sectors can be a good idea, as is practised by many countries in case of school holidays. The government can maintain the current weekly holidays-- Friday and Saturday-- for the public sector, while Saturday and Sunday can be prescribed for the private sector. This would also have a positive influence on reducing the chronic gridlocks as observed on the metropolitan roads, at least during three days of the week, viz. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Most importantly, it will facilitate international business transactions by adding Friday to the weekly schedules of the private sector. On the other hand, the general masses and Islamists would also not feel offended if the weekly holiday remains unchanged for government offices.
Hopefully, the government will initiate a cost-benefit analysis to determine which weekend option is best for the socio-economy of Bangladesh, and then take follow-up actions on the matter accordingly.
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