Business calls for longer working week

12th November 2004, Comments 0 comments

12 November 2004 , HAMBURG - German opposition and industry leaders are calling for a longer working week instead of the idea of scrapping public holidays to help boost the country's sluggish economy. Leading opposition Christian Democrats (CDU) say German workers must return to a 40-hour working week and sacrifice some of their annual holiday for Germany to be competitive. The calls come after widespread protests forced Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to drop a plan to move the German Unity Day to a Sunday.

12 November 2004

HAMBURG - German opposition and industry leaders are calling for a longer working week instead of the idea of scrapping public holidays to help boost the country's sluggish economy.

Leading opposition Christian Democrats (CDU) say German workers must return to a 40-hour working week and sacrifice some of their annual holiday for Germany to be competitive.

The calls come after widespread protests forced Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to drop a plan to move the German Unity Day to a Sunday. It currently is a public holiday, celebrated annually on 3 October in commemoration of the German reunification in 1989.

Leading centre-right CDU politicians say Schroeder's change of plans represents more than just an ordinary political defeat for the Chancellor. Instead, they say, Schroeder's position is weakened as he has misread the public mood.

"Schroeder is not sure where he stands. He is not bound to any values," said Roland Koch, premier of Hesse state.

The unity day plan came as the government examines ways to plug tax revenue shortfalls and provide a fresh impetus to the economy as it struggles to emerge from three years of stagnation.

A public holiday less could add 0.1 percentage point to gross domestic product (GDP) growth, which is forecast this year to reach around 1.8 percent, the government believes.

Moving the 3 October unity day to a Sunday - a move regarded by some as effectively abolishing it - was among a package of measures outlined by Finance Minister Hans Eichel. Schroeder dropped it after outrage from both inside and outside the coalition.

The idea even caused an unprecedented rift between Schroeder, who initially robustly defended the plan, and German President Horst Koehler, who warned that national pride would suffer.

The reverberations continued with Koch and another leading CDU politician, Wolfgang Schaeuble, saying Schroeder had underestimated German patriotism.

Schaeuble, who participated in the 1989 and 1990 German unification talks as interior ministry under former CDU Chancellor Helmut Kohl, said Schroeder had failed to grasp "what national identity means".

He claimed the government was scared of starting a debate on a longer working week, although he contended it would be more effective than scrapping individual public holidays.

Edmund Stoiber, the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) leader, also called for a longer working week, saying scrapping public holidays would be economically ineffective.

Bavaria had far more public holidays than northern Germany, he pointed out, "but at the same time enjoyed Germany's highest economic growth".

He added: "We all in Germany have to work a bit more - return therefore to the 40-hour week as the yardstick in our factories and offices - and give up the crown of holiday world champions."

Germans unions are coming under increasing pressure to move the working week up from, in some cases, 35 hours to 40 hours with no extra pay in order to prevent redundancies or work being transferred abroad.

Two decades after Germany spearheaded the push to the 35-hour working week, more than 100 companies are believed to have lodged claims to return to a 40-hour week without a corresponding pay increase.

Michael Rogowski, head of the German Industry Federation, told the news magazine Focus: "If we return to a 40- hour week this would be the same as doing away with 11 public holidays.

"This would really give a boost to the economy and wouldn't hurt anyone."

Herbert Hainer, chief of sports article firm Adidas, told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: "With six weeks holiday, 14 public holidays and a 35-hour working week we are not competitive. We will have to work more."

However, the country's major trade unions are firmly resisting any moves to a longer working week.

Juergen Peters, head of the German Metalworkers' Union IG Metall, has said that a universal 40-hour working week would serve as Germany's "biggest job destruction programme since World War II".

DPA

Subject: German news 

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