Will the 28-hour week be a model for success?
After six rounds of negotiations employers and unions in the metal and electronics industries in the German state of Baden-Württemberg have reached a new collective agreement. Starting in April, workers will receive a 4.3 percent wage hike and be entitled to a work for as little as 28 hours a week for up to two years. The agreement should set a precedent not just in Germany, commentators note approvingly.
Setting a courageous example
Germany is leading the way as regards the future of the world of employment, La Stampa comments in delight:
“Flexibility is no longer one-sided; employees can now demand changes to their working hours, whereas in the past - in Germany and all over the world - such decisions resided with the companies. Flexibility is at least partially being transferred to the decision-making sphere of the employees and giving them greater control over their private life. The negotiation of employment contracts will no longer be restricted to pay, but also encompass free time. This will strengthen domestic demand for consumer goods and consequently - since the agreement will also be implemented in other parts of Germany - boost growth, not just in Germany but across Europe.”
You reap what you sow
France should follow Germany's example, L'Opinion advises:
“Since the introduction of the 35-hour week, high unemployment has weighed heavily on France. And since then no president has managed to break with this non-avowed consensus that consists in distributing time and money to 'insiders' rather than giving work to those the system has forgotten. And just as little progress has been made in breaking with the vicious circle known as the 'model', in which higher charges on labour are the price that must be paid for financing social transfers to the growing number of those who have been excluded. ... Germany, in contrast, shows that yesterday's fight for competitiveness is today's full employment and tomorrow's wage hikes. That is an example we would do well to follow.”
Germany's biggest union launches key debate
IG Metall has launched a debate that is relevant far beyond Germany's borders, the Wiener Zeitung comments approvingly:
“From the point of view of the employer it can't be that employees decide for themselves what their working hours are - without taking a cut in pay on top of it all. ... On the other hand we are currently seeing younger generations seek a new balance between their work and private lives in which their career is no longer the main focus. At this stage this is still a privilege of the better educated and more flexible, but the desire for such a balance is far more widespread than that. The trade union has now made this socio-political issue the subject of its collective bargaining with trade and industry. It is entirely legitimate to take the view that this is an issue that the politicians should deal with.”
A strong demand by a powerful union
IG Metall is in a position to apply considerable pressure with its demand for a modern working environment, Libération comments:
“If the situation is not resolved the political crisis now underway in Germany (Angela Merkel has been trying to form a coalition government since the elections in September) could well be joined by a social crisis. Because the union is not ruling out a hard strike - something it hasn't resorted to since 2003. ... As a reminder, the four-day week was introduced for Volkswagen workers in 1994. But back then the situation was completely different. The idea was to fight the recession and save 30,000 jobs. ... Today it's about organising working hours in a way that is more modern and compatible with family life and leisure.”