Germany on the way to longer working hours

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

This paper by DB Research looks at working hours
in Germany, arguing that collective agreements must allow for
greater variation in work volume: between thirty
and fifty hours per week.

Ranked by collectively agreed working hours,
Germany lazes in the bottom third in the
European Union. In 2003 the contractual annual
working time in west Germany was 1,643 hours
(east Germany 1,722). The EU-15 average was

Working time is a problem, particularly for
manufacturing. In some sectors, such as metal
and engineering or printing, the 35-hour week
is standard for a large proportion of the
workforce – even for employees remunerated
above the collectively agreed pay scale.
Overall, the collectively agreed working week
in west Germany averages 37.5 hours. 

The actual time worked, however, is
approximately 6% longer than the collectively
agreed hours, and is close to the EU-15
average. This is due to overtime and the fact
that an increasing proportion of the workforce,
especially in small and medium-sized
enterprises, already works longer than
collectively agreed. 

Replacing one work week standard that is
clearly in violation of the broad societal and
economic interest with a less inappropriate one
would clearly be suboptimal. Instead,
collective agreements must allow greater
variation in work volume. What is needed is
agreements that provide wide corridors of
between 30 and 50 hours per week. Within this
range employees and companies could then choose
the working time best suited to their own
needs. The decision on how to remunerate the
additional contractual working hours should
also be taken at the company level. 

In recent years the bargaining parties have
made considerable progress towards greater
flexibility in the working hours of the
individual employee. Working-hour accounts,
flexible part-time shifts, project work and
honour systems for job hours are becoming
increasingly widespread. 

At the macroeconomic level, longer (annual)
working hours without a corresponding increase
in pay are absolutely essential. The idea is to
help bring down Germany’s high labour
costs without sapping purchasing power. A
return to the 40-hour week, for example, could
cut manufacturing labour costs by over

Lower labour costs would help in the short
term to secure jobs that are in danger of being
offshored. Even more importantly, lower costs
should lead to higher recruitment. Purchasing
power would increase, possibly triggering a
virtuous circle. 

To strengthen growth potential, the labour
supply must be redefined and enlarged in all
respects. Areas for action include longer
weekly working hours and/or fewer days of
annual leave entitlement, an earlier start to
working life, and higher participation rates
among women and older people.

To read the full 
DB Research

analysis by 
Dieter Bräuninger

click here


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