Working More to Keep Germany′s Holidays | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 17.11.2004
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Working More to Keep Germany's Holidays

The raging debate in Germany over public holidays in recent weeks recalled similar dispute almost a decade ago. The difference? Germans are serious about working more.


Looking for the magic formula in the holiday debate

In 1995, the conservative government of Helmut Kohl, looking for ways to finance a revolutionary nursing care insurance package, urged states to cut the Day of Prayer and Repentance, a religious holiday celebrated across the country.

The debate at the time was fierce, but the resistance of church officials in all but one of Germany's 16 states proved futile for the holiday that would have been on Wednesday. Nine years later, a similar discussion erupted over the proposal from Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's government to move Germany's National Unity Day, celebrated on Oct. 3, to a Sunday.

Unlike 1995, the proposal this time failed, but it has sparked a discussion on working more that would have been unthinkable a decade ago.

Holiday cuts don't spark economy

No European country has more national and religious holidays than Germany, where states decide what holidays to observe. All 16 states have at least nine holidays, with the number in religious Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg, the country's most dynamic economies, climbing up to 14 in some places.

Proponents of cutting a holiday, which included Finance Minister Hans Eichel and Schröder, argued that eliminating the holiday would allow for one more work day and that would bring in roughly €2 billion ($2.6 billion).

Though the figure sounds impressive, most economists said it only holds if the economy is doing well -- which is definitely not the case at the moment in Germany.

"How do more working hours help a company that doesn't have enough commissions?" Holger Schäfer, a labor market expert at the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) in Cologne told DW-WORLD.

Opel Arbeitszeit

Opel workers in the Rüsselsheim factory

Schäfer argued for a bit more flexibility in the collective bargaining agreement between industry and labor as a way of increasing productivity when it is direly needed. Taking away a holiday, he said, did not.

"When you're talking about 220 potential working days a year, one day less is not that much," he said.

Facing a new economic reality

But the discussion in recent weeks has nevertheless had an effect: Both employers and their workers are realizing that the new economic reality requires massive changes. Already, there is talk of forcing employees who take cigarette breaks to work extra to make up for lost time, and the introduction of longer work weeks seems unavoidable, say analysts.

"I think people would prefer to leave holidays and vacation days alone and instead work longer hours," Michael Schröder, an economist at the Center for European Economic Research (ZEW) in Mannheim, told DW-WORLD.

Wiedervereinigung 3. Oktober 1990 mit Thumbnail

The German flag in front of the Reichstag in Berlin

All agree that the country's political leaders are not likely to put additional holidays on the chopping block any time soon.

"I think they've come to the realization that that's not the best way to consolidate the budget," said Schäfer.

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