Germany discusses reduction of working hours in industry

Jörg Hofmann, president of the IG Metall trade union, in 2015.

To save jobs, do we need to reduce working hours in the long term? This is what Jörg Hofmann, president of the IG Metall union (2.3 million members), defends, who fears a dramatic fall for jobs in the industry. The four-day week for all could provide “Keep jobs in industry instead of destroying them,” he defends. The subject could be at the heart of the sector’s next salary negotiations.

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The four-day week recurs regularly in the German debate. In 2018, a “Right to the 28-hour week” for two years had been negotiated by IG Metall to offer more flexibility to workers in the industry, especially women. The four-day week had mostly been adopted in 1994 at Volkswagen, allowing it to get out of the rut. For IG Metall, the measure could be used in the current crisis, the effects of which on employment could be much more destructive than that of 2009. It indeed occurs at a time when German industry is in the midst of a technological transition to digital. and the electric motor. “The four-day week would be the answer to the transition currently underway in certain industries such as the automobile”, argues Mr Hofmann.

Running out of cash

IG Metall is convinced that keeping employees in place by reducing their working time is a proven method that is beneficial for companies. In 2010, short-time working measures enabled German companies to recover very quickly, without major job destruction, by taking advantage of the strong Asian demand for vehicles and equipment at the right time.

But this time around, the crisis could last significantly longer and companies find themselves strapped for cash. Daimler, ZF and Bosch are therefore currently negotiating reductions in working time with their employees. Jörg Hofmann suggests that all companies adopt the same measures, but with wage compensation. “Employees must be able to afford it”, he insists.

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The proposal is far from unanimous among the employers. Mid-sized companies will not survive, fear some experts. “The German economy is currently undergoing a gigantic productivity shock”, said the president of the employers’ federation BDA, Steffen Kampeter. “A week of four days would only reinforce this shock”, he fears, assuring that “The crisis can only be overcome with more work and greater safety for the workers”. For Michael Hüther, director of the Cologne Economic Institute, close to employers, the four-day week with salary compensation “Would be nothing other than the prolongation of the crisis, and therefore a capitulation to it”.

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