Leading Social Democrats and members of the conservative opposition have come out in favor of reducing the number of holidays rather than increasing the work hours in Germany as a means of raising worker productivity.
Germans top the list for most holidays and vacation
Germans could have fewer holidays on their calendar in the coming years. That's the proposal put forth over the weekend by leading members of the Social Democrats and opposition parties. Rather than take away vacation days or add more hours to the work week, which averages roughly 35 to 38 hours for the industrial and manufacturing sector, the politicians favored scratching a few of the dozen state holidays.
"Before we take away vacation days, we should look at holidays," suggested the Christian Democrats' state party leader for Schleswig-Holstein, Peter Harry Carstensen. Compared to other European and industrialized countries, Germans enjoy the most holidays, averaging 13 in the western part and 11 in the eastern part of the nation. When added to the approximately 30 vacation days, Germans rank top on a list for most days off.
German teenagers dressed as the three wise men collect money for charities around Epiphany.
The premier for the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, Wolfgang Böhmer (CDU), endorsed the proposal to cut down the holidays: "I am not opposed to it," he told the mass-circulation Bild. He said the first to get cancelled would be Epiphany on Jan. 6, which is an official holiday in only three German states, including Saxony-Anhalt.
But the proposal to cut holidays, primarily religious ones, has met with sharp criticism from church leaders. On Monday Catholic bishops throughout the country defended retaining all of the country's holidays, saying they represented Germany's religious and cultural values. Cardinal Friedrich Wetter from Munich said reducing the number of holidays should not play a role in the discussion on increasing worker productivity. There are enough other possibilities in this area he said.
Bishop Heinz Josef Algermissen from Fulda criticized the Christian Democrat Union and the business-friendly Free Democrats for calling for a reduction in religious holidays. Instead the politicians should be thinking about ways to increase the working week or reducing vacation days, he said. In general he cautioned the politicians about focusing too much on "creating a society which places all priority on the economy" while removing the spiritual aspects.
Increasing worker productivity
The proposal to cut holidays represents the politicians' latest attempts to increase productivity and boost the sluggish economy without touching the sensitive issue of raising the hours in the work week or taking away vacation days, both of which have been strongly opposed by the unions.
Many Germans only work 35 hours per week
Jürgen Peters, head of IG-Metall, Germany's largest labor union, warned the government not to meddle with the work week and vacation. If the government calls for increasing working hours or taking away vacation days, the union would call for widespread strikes. "We will do what it takes to defend the 35-hour work week," Peters said.
The government in the meantime has criticized the "ideological fixation" on a specific number of working hours as impractical and detrimental to economic growth. Deputy spokesperson Thomas Steg said in Berlin on Monday that "a fixation of any sort was misleading," and pointed to open clauses in tariffs, which allow for flexible solutions.
German President Horst Köhler echoed the government's position and urged Germans to engage in a debate without taboos. "Germany is in fact the world's vacation 'meister' and it cannot be a taboo to talk about this topic," Köhler said in an interview with German public television on Sunday.
Germans love their seaside vacation
"All efforts should be focused on the questions of what will create jobs and what will help the economy grow," Köhler said and added that extending the working week or reducing the number of days off should be integral parts of this discussion.