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Accueil » Steffen Lehndorff, researcher: Work length should be an individual choice

Steffen Lehndorff, researcher: Work length should be an individual choice

    How many individuals and organisations are advocating the topic of working time reduction in your country and do you form partnerships?

    There is no politically relevant movement or initiative for general working-time reductions in Germany. Of course there are individuals and work groups (like the attac group “ArbeitFairTeilen”) advertising the importance of a new campaign for, say, a 30-hour week. But in terms of political or public support this is marginal. The debate within the trade unions is different. It is focused primarily on possibilities to open the doors towards greater individual control over working hours, including the possibilities for works councils to curtail extra-long hours on the one side, and the chance for temporary working-time reductions on the other. “Short full-time” has been made the label for these initiatives.

    Over the past few years, important first steps in this direction have been taken in the chemical industry and in Deutsche Post and Deutsche Bahn, where employees have been given the opportunity to choose between pay rise and days off. The largest initiative has been undertaken by IG Metall in its 2018 collective agreement which provides for a similar choice for specific groups of workers (shift workers, parents of small children, and workers who have to care for relatives) on the one hand, and for a general individual right to switch to 28 hours for a certain period of time. The option to choose between pay rise and days off proves to be very popular.

    What is your group`s actual proposal for the reduction of working time?

    My personal approach is close to the trade unions’ one. In the internal debates in the trade unions I support the focus on greater individual control and individual (or labour force group-related) options for working-time reductions, and on general working-time reductions for particularly stressful jobs like shift work.

    I have been advertising the label “short full-time” for many years while highlighting its importance as a door-opener towards a long-term change in the so-called “standard employment relationship”, not as a slogan for a general working-time reduction in the short run. The latter is (a) not realistic and (b) would require substantial policy reforms (in particular in schooling) which, in turn, would require substantial shifts in the political balance of powers needed for tax reforms, higher public investment etc. Temporary short full-time as a door opener is a very conflictual topic already and is the most useful focus I can think of with regards to working-time policy in Germany.

    Who do you encounter as opponents and what are their counterarguments?

    The employers federations, of course. In Germany, their two main arguments are (a) the lack of skilled staff and (b) the costs of shorter working hours which would impact on the international unit labour cost competitiveness of German manufacturing industry. In the public service the latter argument is replaced by the lack of financial resources.

    What is your next step in the campaign? And what are your short-term, medium-term and long-terms objectives?

    As to the national level, see answers to first and second question. At EU level, however, I think the most urgent policy focus should be a campaign for a statutory 40-hour week in the framework of a reform of the EU working-time directive. I cannot see any use in a general call for, say, a 30-hour-week at EU level as the situation is absolutely diverse across EU countries, both in terms of working-time realities and of trade unions landscapes. But a campaign for a statutory 40-hour week would be (a) an offensive answer to various attempts of employer lobby organisations and parts of the EU Commission to hollow out the existing working-time directive, and (b) a very useful contribution to the upcoming debate about the so-called “Social Pillar” of the EU.

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