German metal workers have won the right to a 28-hour working week in a landmark deal between employers and Europe’s biggest union.
Under the deal, announced on February 7, workers will be allowed to reduce their working week to just 28 hours for a temporary period of up to two years. Employers will not be able to block individual workers from taking up the offer. Those who take advantage of the deal will only be paid for the hours worked and at the end of two years they will have to return to the current 35-hour working week.
The collective deal was agreed by IG Metall, Europe’s largest industrial union, and for now only covers around 900,000 workers in the metals and electrical industries in the south-western state of Baden-Württemberg.
But the state, home to major German industrial companies like Bosch and Daimler, the makers of Mercedes, is often seen as a weather vane for the German economy and it is likely to be rolled out across the whole economy.
The deal is seen as testament to the growing influence of German unions against a backdrop of the country’s strong economic performance and low unemployment. Last year the German economy grew at its fastest rate since 2011 and umeployment is at its lowest since reunification in 1990, putting workers in a strong position.
The agreement came after IG Metall called three 24-hour strikes and workers downed tools at companies including Daimler, Siemens and Airbus. But economists say it is also a sign that factors such as work-life balance could be as important as pay in future negotiations.
IG Metall reportedly turned down a 6.8 per cent pay increase in favour of the reduced working week. It also won a 4.3 per cent pay increase and one-time payments to workers. In return for agreeing the shorter week employers won the right to offer more workers longer 40-hour contracts, meaning the deal will offer more flexibility.
“The deal isn’t extremely good for unions, but it isn’t too bad either -- overall they managed to push through more of their demands than expected,” said Andreas Scheuerle, economist at Dekabank in Frankfurt. Stefan Wolf, the employers’ chief negotiator, described the deal as a “burden which will be hard to bear for many firms”.
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Millions of Germans have won the right to work a 28-hour week for up to two years to spend more time with their families. The deal covers industrial workers in Baden-Württemberg but could be extended to other parts...