Does Germany need a 45-hour working week? | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 26.10.2010
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Does Germany need a 45-hour working week?

As the German economy continues its recovery from the financial crisis, leading economists say the country's workforce should brace itself for a longer working week.

A factory time-punch

Economists say workers' shifts should be longer

Earlier this year, scores of workers across Germany did their bit to pull the nation out of its financial quagmire by participating in state-subsidized schemes that saw them work shorter shift for less money in order to prevent layoffs. Now that the worst is over and the country's mighty export machine has kicked back into gear, employees are being warned they'll have to start working a whole lot more.

In a recent interview with the Bild newspaper, the President of the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), Klaus Zimmerman said the country's skilled workers that the era of the 37.5 or 38-hour working week was "over."

"In the mid-term, there is no way around longer working hours," he said, adding that an extension was particularly likely to affect those working in export-reliant fields such as engineering, as well as health and aged care professions.

A builder on a construction site

The engineering sector is likely to be hardest hit by shift increases

A quantum leap

When Zimmermann mentions longer working hours, he is talking about somewhere between 42 and 45 per week, which equates to a massive jump from the short weeks introduced under the Kurzarbeit subsidy program. Although the shift is a sign that the economy has recovered fast and well, it also highlights Germany's shortage of skilled workers.

One of the reasons why so many companies across the country were willing to sign up to Kurzarbeit was that the alternative would have meant letting their skilled staff go. And as Stefan Hardege of the German Chambers of Industry and Commerce told Deutsche Welle, nobody really wanted to do that.

"They knew that if they got rid of them they wouldn't get them back again," Hardege said. "And now the economy is back in swing, they're finding it hard to find enough skilled workers."

A disputed new norm

Hence Zimmerman's call for longer working hours. He was joined in his assessment of the immediate post-crisis situation by Ulrich Blum, President of the Halle Institute of Economic Research, who told reporters that businesses needed a flexible workforce to maintain the current level of affluence.

Blum told Die Welt newspaper that there were already plenty of people who worked long weeks, and that in the future, 43 to 45 hours would become the norm.

But unions have rejected the calls.

A waitress holding large plates

Germany's food union opposes extended hours

"We will not allow this attack on workers' rights and the wage autonomy," Vice Chairman of the Union for Food and Gastronomy (NGG), Claus-Harald Guester, said in a statement. "In the past years the NGG has successfully fought against extended working hours. And it will stay that way."

Guester went on to say that employers should concentrate on programs to promote life-long learning and ensure older staff members can continue working for longer.

Author: Tamsin Walker (dpa, AFP)
Editor: Sam Edmonds

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