Thu, Feb 08, 2018 - Page 10 News List

IG Metall, businesses agree to temporary 28-hour week

AFP, FRANKFURT AM MAIN, Germany

From left, metalworkers’ union IG Metall chairman Joerg Hofmann, IG Metall Baden-Wuerttemberg district manager Roman Zitzelsberger, employers’ association Suedwestmetall chairman Stefan Wolf and employers’ association Gesamtmetall chairman Rainer Dulger hold a news conference in Stuttgart, Germany, on Tuesday.

Photo: AFP

Germany’s powerful metalworking union IG Metall on Tuesday agreed with bosses on a new right to switch temporarily to a 28-hour workweek.

Could the example from Europe’s largest economy — often a trailblazer in labor relations — be echoed by other countries?

As well as a pay rise, metalworkers in prosperous southwestern Baden-Wuerttemberg state agreed with bosses that they can in the future temporarily switch to shorter hours.

Part-time working is not a new concept in German labor law, but it is the first time employers will not have a veto, even if they fear it will disrupt business.

Employees would switch from a 35-hour limit to 28 hours per week for up to two years before a return to full-time work.

Until now, those switching temporarily to shorter hours have enjoyed no guarantee they could reclaim their full-time post.

Their salary will fall in line with the shorter number of hours, but some beneficiaries, such as young parents, those caring for elderly relatives or people doing shift work, will be able to take more paid holidays.

Baden-Wuerttemberg’s deal is likely to be extended to the rest of Germany, as the state is often used as a test case by employers and unions.

Germany is basking in a period of high growth, unemployment at a historic low of 5.4 percent last month and a shortage of skilled labor, meaning workers could bring maximalist demands to talks with employers.

However, the deal “is not transplantable to France,” where unemployment is close to double its neighbor’s rate, despite accelerating growth, employers’ association Mouvement des Entreprises de France president Pierre Gattaz said.

With unemployment at 8.7 percent across the 19-nation eurozone — and almost 18 percent among under-25s — the same pressure on wages does not exist elsewhere, analysts have said.

“Germany is the only one of the big countries where total slack in the labor market has fallen well below the precrisis levels of 2007-2008,” ABN AMRO Bank NV economist Aline Schulling said.

“Germany can afford pay rises,” European Trade Union Confederation deputy general secretary Peter Scherrer said.

However, the deal “encourages workers and trade unions to organize for a fairer deal in all EU countries,” he added.

“This agreement should inspire pay rises and better working time conditions, not only across Germany, but in companies across Europe,” Scherrer said.

IG Metall reportedly has almost 2.3 million members, making it Europe’s largest trade union.

It negotiates the employment rules for as many as 3.9 million workers in sectors ranging from engineering to textile manufacturing and car production.

In Germany, the deals it strikes with bosses usually set the tone for labor relations in other parts of the economy, especially public-sector employees.

The union has long broken new ground in Europe, striking in 1982 for a 35-hour workweek for the first time using the slogan: “More time to live, love and laugh.”

It took until 1995 to wring a 35-hour deal out of bosses, but Germans were still five years ahead of France’s adoption of a shorter week.

IG Metall has also adapted its demands to the changing work-life balance of the digital economy, clinching a deal with Volkswagen AG in 2011 to ban e-mail outside of office hours.

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