Germans Plead off Work as Heat Wave Stifles | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 07.08.2003
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Germans Plead off Work as Heat Wave Stifles

In terms of working, Germans are not exactly known for shirking their responsibilities. So when people start calling for days off due to the summer heat, it must mean that things are getting pretty hot.


This is what German employees would rather do than sweat away in their offices.

When parched regions of Europe burst into flame, previously dam-busting rivers are reduced to dry beds and the subject of failing crops makes it to the agendas of worried politicians, you know that it must be pretty hot. But despite disaster and drought, Germans, who are experiencing one of their hottest summers ever, are expected to keep working.

But respite may be at hand if some of the nation’s politicians get their way. As Germany heads into a week where the forecasted weather is expected to challenge the country’s record temperature of 40.2 degrees Celsius, politicians from the opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Green Party (the junior party in the ruling coalition) have come to the aid of the people, calling for free days for employees when the heat gets too much.

“Bosses, have a heart for your workers!” said the CDU’s Christoph Böhr. “The hours they now spend in the swimming pool can be made up later in the cooler time of the year.” Hubert Ulrich of the Greens also appealed to employees: “When possible, give the people time off because of the heat.”

Flimmernde Hitze

The heat blurs the view of Berlin's landmark Brandenburg Gate.

The Berlin administration has already reacted to the suffering of employees in governmental buildings as they sweat away under extreme temperatures. Considering the welfare of the staff and employees, Interior senator Ehrhart Körting has decided that free time is permitted when temperatures outside stay over 29 degrees Celsius. “Because of the long, persistent heat, for this summer, all department heads are to allow a day off in consideration of the extreme weather conditions, under the condition that staff allow for this in their flexi-time balance.”

Germany has been sweltering under temperatures that have so far touched 39.2 degrees Celsius – at Mannheim Airport on Monday – with no respite in sight. Experts believe the record temperature set in Gärmersdorf in 1983 may be in danger of being overtaken this year. The whole of Europe is wilting in the heat and nuclear reactors are being hosed down in a bid to avert a summer meltdown. Even so, some believe that this is no reason for Germans to stop working.

Wetter: Strandkörbe an der Ostsee

Get back to work!

The Federal Employment Court in Erfurt is one organization that says the Germans should labor on. A spokesperson for the Bundesarbeitsgerichts (BAG) told the German press association DPA on Tuesday that heat in the workplace is no grounds for refusing to work but “at especially high temperatures, the rate of work can be adjusted if necessary.” So, it appears that in the event of possible death by stewing or dehydration, working slowly is the acceptable alternative to taking a day off and living to toil another day.

The German Civil Code disagrees. Clear regulations state the conditions under which Germans should be expected to work. According to the code, the employer is duty bound to protect employees “against danger to life and health.” Offices should be maintained at a “beneficial room temperature” and if possible be equipped with climate control or air-conditioning. Room temperatures should not exceed 26 degrees Celsius.

Those employers that cannot provide a safe and healthy environment for workers in extreme heat now have a choice: follow the lead of the governmental departments who believe that time taken off now can be made up in the future, which will lead to happier and more productive employees in the long run. Or expect the same quality and quantity of work from your staff while they slowly melt in the summer’s onslaught. There is an alternative, of course. Heavy investment in the electrical fan market.

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