The four day week in response to the massive job losses from the coronavirus pandemic it’s a theory as attractive as it is controversial that it is taking off in recent days in Germany, evidencing the difficulties for its implementation.
The matter was raised by IG Metal, the largest sectoral union in Germany and Europe (with more affiliates than CC.OO. and UGT together), which launched the proposal this August as a response to the difficulties that the coronavirus has caused in the economy, but also in anticipation of other future challenges.
In an interview in the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, IG Metall president Jörg Hofmann advanced that, for the next round of collective agreement negotiations, he will propose “the four-day week as an option” in exchange for a “certain salary adjustment”. He did not specify the hours of work or the economic repercussions.
The objective would be to adapt the volume of working hours to the reduction in production caused by the demand crisis in many sectors without having to proportionally reduce the workforce, something that hurts both the employees affected and the companies (which lose capital human).
“We also need new and implementable ideas. I will propose for debate in the next round (of negotiation) of the collective agreement the four-day week as an option,” he said.
In his opinion, the “Kurzarbeit” (the German version of the ERTE) serves to cushion the economic downturn, but his proposal would go further. Because in addition to discouraging layoffs, it aspires to become “the answer to structural change” caused by digitization, automation and the commitment to the green economy.
Among the great beneficiaries, abound, would be the motor sector – the first for production, exports and employment in Germany – currently in check, in addition to the coronavirus, for the electric car, autonomous vehicles and alternative mobility.
“The transformation should not lead to layoffs, but to good employment for all,” said Hofmann.
An uneven reception
The proposal has had an uneven reception. The Left party has applauded her and its co-president Katja Kipping has asked for the 30-hour week and state subsidies as an incentive. The Minister of Labor, the Social Democrat Hebertus Heil, has indicated that “the reduction of working time with a partial salary adjustment may be an appropriate measure.”
“Good and pragmatic ideas are needed to overcome the crisis together,” Heil argues to the Funke group media.
The employer, for its part, has shown its opposition. The manager of the German Federation of Employers’ Associations (BDA), Steffen Kampeter, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper that the time to introduce such a measure cannot be less opportune for companies.
“The German economy is suffering a huge productivity shock. We will only overcome the crisis if we make it possible, with more work, welfare and social security,” he argued.
The fracture that the proposal has generated throughout Germany also divides the economists’ union.
The labor market expert at the liberal Institute of German Economics (IW), Holger Schäfer, described in an interview on the public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk as “dangerous nonsense” four day week and, especially, the idea of promoting it from the State with subsidies, as proposed by La Izquierda.
Marcel Fratzscher, president of the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), of Social Democratic positions, was in an interview in the newspaper Passauer Neue Presse in favor of the four-day week and greater flexibility in working hours “if so the employer and the worker want it. ” But with nuances.
“The question of wage adjustment is always crucial,” added Fratzscher, because this would mean an increase in labor costs for companies, something counterproductive at the macroeconomic level in the current crisis.
“A reduction in working time currently seems reasonable to me if this way jobs can be secured. A rise in labor costs would further weigh down companies,” he said.