4-day week: New Zealand wants to boost the economy with reduced working hours

Less work with full wage compensation: model for Germany? New Zealand wants to prevent corona recession with 4-day week

Wednesday, June 10th, 2020, 16:14

Already going into the weekend on Thursday and not giving up on salary: the approximately 200 employees of Perpetual Guardian enjoy this luxury. The New Zealand legal consultancy caused a sensation worldwide two years ago when it introduced the 4-day week; with full wage compensation. New Zealand now wants to expand this model. The idea: If people work less, they have more time to travel – and could thus boost the tourism industry, which is stumbling because of Corona. Does that make sense in Germany?

“I hear a lot of people suggesting that we should have a 4-day workweek,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said recently in an informal live video on Facebook. Many New Zealanders had told her that if they had more flexible working hours, they would travel more in their own country. Ultimately, it is a matter between employers and employees, the head of government. Nevertheless, she now wants to encourage employers in her country to consider introducing a 4-day week and other flexible working time models, as this would certainly help the tourism economy across the country.

New Zealand’s tourism is broke after Corona

Background: New Zealand’s tourism industry has been hard hit by the corona crisis. The state has recently officially declared the pandemic over because there are no more active cases and has lifted all corona restrictions. But the borders remain closed for international travelers. The chief analyst of the Australian-New Zealand bank ANZ, Sharon Zollner, anticipates a decline in the gross domestic product of up to ten percent. “We are all happy about the easing. But the recession will come. And it gets bad. “

So far, New Zealand has acted similarly to many other countries in order to cushion the economic consequences of the pandemic “down under”: it is pumping billions into the economy – including the creation of new jobs. The idea of ​​reducing working hours to get out of the crisis, however, is unique in the world. Can it work?

Workers: “They should be super productive”

The labor market expert Alexander Herzog-Stein does not believe that the introduction of a 4-day week could have positive effects on demand for the tourism industry. “More vacation in the sense of travel usually does not fail because of a lack of time, but because of insufficient household income for the additional leisure activities.” But that does not mean that it is not time to think about modern working time models, says Herzog-Stein talking to FOCUS Online. “That is absolutely necessary.”

The Cologne economist and labor market researcher Alexander Spermann also considers the arguments of the New Zealand Prime Minister to be difficult to understand. “If a 4-day week were introduced with unchanged income, people would have three days a week for domestic tourism. That presupposes that they work superproductively in the four days so that employers pay them exactly the same as for five days of work. ”However, within a short time this would lead to an extreme workload and significantly increase work stress, Spermann argues to VIP News. In order to strengthen the tourism sector, it is better to discount domestic travel, for example with a temporary reduction in VAT.

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Work-life balance: More and more companies are moving away from rigid working time models

Nevertheless, New Zealand made headlines around the world with its push to cut working hours. Although the idea of ​​a four-day workweek is not new, it is now being hotly discussed again after Corona. More and more companies are moving away from rigid working time models and instead relying on more flexibility.

In Japan, for example, where employees have to work the most hours in the world, Microsoft sent its employees to its Tokyo headquarters last weekend for testing on Thursday. According to their own information, their productivity has increased by 40 percent. The head of the New Zealand legal consulting firm, Andrew Barnes, even says that moving to the 4-day week has made his employees happier and healthier. And in Germany, too, some companies, such as the Berlin startup Tandemploy, have long reduced working hours.

Trend in working hours: not necessarily shorter, but more flexible

It is undisputed that the work-life balance is becoming increasingly important to employees. At the same time, however, representative evaluations show that on average people today do not want to work less than they did 20 or 30 years ago, economist Enzo Weber of the Institute for Labor Market and Vocational Research (IAB) points out to FOCUS Online. “It is true that many people – especially full-time employees and those with a high level of professional responsibility – want to reduce their actual working hours. However, the desired reduction is usually less than one day a week. ”Many part-time workers would even tend to want to extend their working hours, says Weber. “So the trend in working hours is: not necessarily shorter for everyone, but self-determined and flexible.”

When full-time employees tend to reduce their working hours, as the New Zealand government now welcomes, labor market experts see this as an opportunity for the situation of many women in part-time jobs. If they were to work more and in return men were to work less, the argument goes, unpaid care work would be more equitably distributed.

Labor market: More inclusion through 4-day week?

The “shortened full-time” model has already established itself in the Nordic countries. Labor market expert Spermann also considers it an opportunity for a more inclusive labor market. “However, a state-prescribed 4-day week in Germany is a mistake.” The productivity boosts required for this within a short period of time are “an illusion for an economy,” Spermann is convinced. “However, it could be that digitization and the international division of labor make previously unimaginable increases in productivity possible, which make a 4-day week in Germany conceivable.”

Herzog-Stein is also convinced that the general demand for a 4-day week does not do justice to the modern working world. “But the proposal is interesting if it is understood in such a way that it is about the idea of ​​a shortened full-time and not just about an additional – possibly even unpaid – additional day off as part of a working week.” In principle, the idea of ​​such a ” short full-time “of, for example, 30 hours per week also interesting for Germany

Overall, the labor market expert points out, Germany is very far ahead of other countries when it comes to modern working hours. Modern collective bargaining regulations such as those in the metal and electrical industry would already take the living situation of employees into account. “Such regulations work on a medium level and are more effective than state requirements or individual agreements that individual employees have to negotiate with their employer,” says Herzog-Stein.

With material from dpa

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