28-Hour Week

A Looming Working Time Battle

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    A major German union is pushing to reduce the working week and offer workers more flexibility. Employers say the proposals could derail the German economic boom.

  • Facts


    • One of Germany’s most powerful unions, the engineering workers’ union IG Metall, is to push for a reduction in statutory working hours to 28 per week.
    • A recent survey suggests 46 percent of all Germans would rather have more holidays than a pay increase.
    • Employers organizations remain deeply opposed to across-the-board cuts to working time, saying they would drive up labor costs and threaten the survival of many businesses.
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IG Metall – Warnstreiks in der Metall- und Elektroindustrie
Is it really that simple? Source: Timm Schamberger/DPA.

The right to work less, often for the same pay, looks set to be the main demand by labor unions in upcoming pay talks involving nearly 4 million engineering and metalworkers in Germany. Two decades after it achieved a 35-hour working week, one of the country’s most powerful trade unions, IG Metall, is set to push for a possible reduction to just 28.

Employers’ organizations have reacted vehemently to the suggestion. Rainer Dulger, the chairman of Gesamtmetall, a prominent metal and engineering employer group, told Handelsblatt that a 28-hour workweek would entail the collapse of collective labor agreements and production being outsourced abroad. “This could permanently wreck our economic success,” he said rather darkly.

With federal elections just over two months away, the question of working hours is moving up the political agenda. “I am very happy that the unions are starting this debate, and I am hoping for wise decisions by the social partners,” Carsten Schneider, vice parliamentary chair of the center-left Social Democratic Party, or SPD, told Handelsblatt. Boosts to productivity from digitalization could be reflected in shorter working hours, he said.

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