Working time - the key issues

- Recent trends
- Public sector across Europe
- Longer hours in German public sector
- What happened at Siemens and Daimler-Chrysler
- Working time directive

Over the last few months working time has become the burning issue in European industrial relations. A small number of factory-specific agreements in Germany and France have increased the working week for some categories of employee. Since then the cry has gone up from employer organisations around Europe for longer working hours.

In Germany in particular there is considerable pressure for longer hours with civil servants and workers employed by regional governments facing the prospect of a longer working week.

In the meantime the latest proposals from the European Commission to amend the Working Time Directive are very much in line with employer thinking, again with a view to allow longer working hours.

In these pages and through links to the relevant organisations, EPSU will try to keep you up-to-date with the latest developments on working time both in terms of collective bargaining and national and European legislation.

Recent trends

In recent years there have only been one or two major developments on working time in collective bargaining. In fact, the introduction of the 35-hour working in France probably accounts for most of the small overall decline in negotiated weekly working between 1999 and 2003 according to the European Industrial Relations Observatory (EIRO).

Read more at > EIRO (English)

EIRO estimates that between 1999 and 2003 the average agreed normal working week in the EU15 and Norway fell from 38.6 hours to 38 hours. The main changes apart from France were in Belgium, Luxembourg, Sweden and the UK.

In the new member states average weekly hours were higher at 39.7 in 2003, down from 39.8 in 2002.

The EIRO study noted that the trend overall was still downward but acknowledges that perhaps things were beginning to change, particularly with the failure of the IG Metall union in Germany to win a cut in working hours in the east German metalworking industry after a four-week strike.

Public sector across Europe

Weekly working hours data across the whole public are sector are not readily available but figures for local government were collated in EIRO's 2003 report on collective bargaining and working hours.

Read more at > EIRO (English)

EIRO records that since 1999, average agreed weekly hours in local government in the EU and Norway have fallen slightly from 37.9 to 37.6, mainly due to reductions in France and Italy, with few changes elsewhere.
Overall weekly hours tend to be lower in local government but there are exceptions with a 40-hour week for council workers in Austria, Greece, Luxembourg and Sweden as well as Hungary, Malta and Slovenia.

Longer hours in German public sector

The main push for changes in working hours in the public sector - that is increases - is coming from Germany employers, including the federal, regional and local governments.

The main German public sector union ver.di reports that in some regions civil servants (those covered by statute rather than collective bargaining) already have a 40-hour working week and the DGB German union confederation warns that the federal government is now moving to extend this to civil servants within the national administration as well. The new regulation would mean an increase of 1½ hours from the current 38½ from 1 October 2004.

Although employers and unions are in the middle of negotiations to introduce a new pay structure for next February when the current 27-month agreement expires, regional government employers have pre-empted this by announcing cuts in holiday and Christmas pay as well as a longer working week, rising from 38½ to 41 hours.

Read more at > DGB (German)

And at > ver.di (German)

The union has also summarised some of the main arguments against longer working hours and although some address some specific German issues they can be applied more generally:
- It is wrong to portray Germany as the land of the 35-hour week when both the average negotiated (37.7 hours) and effective (39.9 hours) working week are only just below the EU average.
- Figures from different EU countries indicate there is not a straightforward relationship between working hours and unemployment - the Netherlands has shorter working hours and lower employment while Spain has longer working hours and higher unemployment.
- The Germany economy is competitive at an international level as its export performance demonstrates.
- In the past with productivity rising, moves to cut working hours was part and parcel of a process that saw employers and employees benefit from economic development. Now lengthening working hours without compensatory pay increases is just a way of cutting hourly pay.
- It won't end at 40 hours, and some employers are already talking about a 42- or 45-hour week.
- Longer working hours without more pay won't help the German economic situation or increase jobs. It needs a boost to demand and that won't come if people are working longer hours for the same pay.
- Longer working hours won't help job creation and is a threat to employment. It may initially provide a boost for the particular firm that starts the process but then as everyone follows suit, noone can win.
- The focus on cost savings and longer working hours is the opposite you would expect from an innovative and modern economy, where the focus shouldn't be on improving skills and employment conditions.
- Women and children will particularly lose out as longer hours will make it even more difficult for parents to balance their work and home life.
- Longer working hours will mean more stress and a greater likelihood of health problems - another burden for the health services.
- You don't necessarily get more flexibility from longer hours - in fact the opposite is more likely as workers on longer hours will have less scope to respond to demands for more flexible working.
- Studies have shown that longer working hours tend to reduce productivity as performance tends to decline.

Read more at > ver.di (German)

What happened at Siemens and Daimler-Chrysler

As these cases have generated so much public debate it is worth looking at them in some detail and reporting what the unions have to say.

In February, the German metalworking union IG Metall agreed a new pay and hours deal which runs to February 2006. Siemens, one of the biggest employers in the sector had been threatening to withdraw from the employers' federation but it remains covered by the agreement which introduced the more flexibility for employers to negotiate longer working hours.

The details are explained in the IG Metall note (English - link below) but essentially allow certainly plants to have a larger proportion of workes on longer hours than in previous agreements. This hours should be paid but not necessarily at a premium.

In June, however, Siemens and IG Metall negotiated a new pay and hours agreement covering 4,000 workers at its Bochum and Kamp-Lintfort mobile phone factories (see IG Metall note). Workers in these plants will see hours increase from 35 to 40 a week with no compensatory increase in pay.

IG Metall says it “had to pay a rather high price for securing employment and production, but the alternative was unemployment for 4,000 people in a region with only few job opportunities.”

The union argues that the agreement is a specific response to the pressures in the mobile phone industry, is not a blueprint for other metalworking deals and does not apply to the rest of Siemens' 160,000 workers.

At car manufacturer Daimler-Chrysler (see IG Metall note) two groups of workers are facing longer hours. Research and development workers will see the working week rise from 35 to 40 hours with a compensary increase in pay. This is in line with the general metalworking agreement signed in February.

However, around 6,000 service workers in canteens, printing and security will see their weekly hours rise in steps to 39 a week by July 2007 with no compensatory increase in pay. IG Metall points out that the alternative for these workers would be outsourcing and the probability of much worse pay and conditions.

IG Metall emphasises that this deal involves job security for all 160,000 Daimler-Chrysler employees in Germany at least until 2012.

Read more at > IG Metall note (English)

The European Trade Union Institute has issued a special collective bargaining newsletter on the hours issue warning that everyone could lose out if competitive forces extend these working hours increases across industries and countries.

Read more at > ETUI (English)

Working time directive

The European Commission issued a Communication in January on working time which focused on three main areas where it thought the working time directive should be revised:
- the reference period for calculating the 48-hour maximum average working week (currently four months, can be extended to six or to 12 in collective agreement);
- use of the individual opt-out from the 48-hour maximum average working week (allowing individual workers to agree to longer working hours); and
- the impact of including on-call time at work as part of working time (arising from two European Court cases involving medical staff on-call at work).

Consultation with the social partners revealed a clear divide between employers and unions. Employers mainly called for a 12-month reference period, maintenance of the opt-out and the exclusion of on-call time from working time. Unions wanted the reference period rules to be left alone, abolition of the opt-out and sectoral negotations over how best to deal with the implications of court rulings that on-call hours are part of working time.

For EPSU's response see > EPSU (English, French, German, Spanish and Swedish)

The Commission carried out a second consultation on the basis of suggested amendments which mostly fell in line with employer views on these key issues.

It wanted to:
- make it easier to agree a 12-month reference period;
- to introduce a new legal definition of “inactive time” to keep on-call hours out of working time; and
- keep the opt-out with certain restrictions, through collective agreements or more monitoring, or allow for its abolition after a certain amount of time.

Following the second consultation, the Commission is expected to reveal its final proposals for amending the working time directive. These have not been officially published but are expected to include the following:
- differentation between on-call time and “inactive” on-call time, with the first included in the calculation of working hours but not the second;
- amendment of the reference time rules retaining four months at the set reference period but allowing its extension to 12 rather than six months in special circumstances and following consultation;
- maintenance of the individual opt-out but only where first agreed in a collective agreement or some other agreement between the social partners.

While unions will be disappointed with these proposals, not all governments and employers organisations will be happy either. UK employers have been the only ones in Europe to make widespread use of the individual opt-out and, with UK government support, have been pushing hard to keep it. With collective bargaining coverage so low in the UK, the changes to the opt-out proposed by the Commission could make it difficult for employers there to use the opt-out so freely. The latest press reports talk of the UK attempting to ensure support from Poland and Germany in particular to block the amendment.

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