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Business

Industry groups want to reduce or restructure German vacations

Germans generally get six weeks of vacation a year, which is too much, according to several industry groups. They want to reduce the number of days off or restructure how they're taken.

People on a beach

Less beach, more factory floor for Germans, if some industry groups have their way

Germans should shorten their trips to Spain's beaches or Italy's piazzas in the future to help the economy, two German business associations have said. According to them, six weeks, the amount of paid holiday most Germans get, is too much, or should at least be restructured.

The UMW business association, a Koblenz-based group which represents small and medium-sized firms, would like to see those six weeks cut down to four. After all, according to director Ursula Frerichs, Germany is the world leader when it comes to the generosity of its companies' vacation policies, with its work force enjoying twice as many days off as in many other countries.

"Six weeks are too many, four weeks would be completely adequate," Frerichs told the mass-market newspaper Bild.

According to a study by Eurofound, an EU organization that studies living and working conditions throughout the bloc, Germans get on average 40.5 paid days off per year, including vacation and holidays. The EU average is 33.7 days.

"Germans are the absolute European champions when it comes to time off from work," Eberhard Vogt, spokesman for BVMW, which also represents the interests of small and medium-sized concerns, told Deutsche Welle. According to the group, its member list includes 150,000 companies with around 4.3 million employees.

Vacation 'accounts'

The BVMW is not so interested in reducing the vacation days workers are entitled to, they would rather like to see vacation organized differently. They suggest employees get five weeks of vacation annually to use as they please, but the final week off would be put in a "vacation account," which would be taken during slower periods on the factory floor or between projects in the front office.

Worker on a factory floor

Too many vacation requests at the same time can lead to production bottlenecks

In summer 2009 the group's president, Mario Ohoven, called for one day of Germans' vacations to be canceled in light of the financial crisis. He said at the time that 45,000 small and medium-sized companies with around 450,000 employees were fighting for their lives.

Since then, Germany's economic fortunes have improved dramatically, with the country's economy enjoying growth of 2.2 percent in the second quarter of this year, the highest rate since German reunification.

"In many sectors, especially those which are export oriented, orders are way up but because everyone wants their vacation at around the same time, they can't keep up," Vogt said. "We want things to be more flexible."

Germans are legally entitled to a minimum of 24 vacation days. But wage agreements in most sectors stipulate that workers are entitled to six-weeks off. Those working in sectors not covered by comprehensive wage agreements might only get the 24 days.

Vacation and productivity

There has long been debate about the links between length of vacation and overall productivity levels. Figures from the World Economic Forum show that the US remains the world's most competitive country, and that vacation-deprived Americans on average take 10 fewer vacation days than their European counterparts.

But other indicators, including countries' GDP per hours worked, reveal that more-relaxed Europe can hold its own against the US. Many parts of Europe are at least as productive as the US, if not more, with the added bonus of having those extra weeks off to go skiing, hiking or just lie in a hammock.

Germans on a safari

Germans take their vacations seriously

"It's true, from an international perspective, Germans work relatively little," Viktor Steiner, a professor at Berlin's Free University and a researcher at the DIW economics institute, told Deutsche Welle. "I could see that an employee might be ready to give up some vacation time if there were compensation and wages went up.

"But that could mean that there would be little benefit for the company," he added.

He said in theory shorter vacations could benefit firms by expanding capacity, that is, allowing their large capital investments such as manufacturing machinery to be used for a longer period of time. But that could also be done by hiring temporary workers when full-time staff goes on vacation. That would be harder to do, however, when it comes to highly skilled employees.

The chorus of opposition, especially from the unions, is likely to get louder as the issue is debated.

"We don't think very much of this proposal," Ingrid Gier, a spokeswoman from the IG Metall union, told Deutsche Welle. "We are a very productive country and the related stress levels are high. People need this vacation time to recover from that and remain productive."

Most everyday Germans consider vacation, or their beloved Urlaub, something almost holy. It's doubtful many would be willing to roll back advances that have been made around vacation days, thanks in large part to the country's traditionally powerful unions.

But Frerichs from the UMW wants to give it a shot anyway, saying it's time to try out a four-week vacation rule in 2011 and change the status quo.

"It could help us support the current economic expansion we're enjoying," she said. Author: Kyle James
Editor: Sean Sinico

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