German workers have won the right to a 28-hour week in a victory towards their fight for a better work-life balance.
Industrial union IG Metall, Europe’s largest trade union, has won its workers the right to work the equivalent of under six hours each day in a deal that could eventually impact almost 4 million people in the country.
The collective deal covers around 900,000 metal and engineering workers in the south-western state of Baden-Württemberg, but it is expected to prompt changes across the country and in other industries.
It means from next year, workers at many of Germany’s most important engineering firms can opt to take on a 28-hour working week for up to two years. Employers will not be able to prevent individual workers from taking up the offer.
The agreement comes after IG Metall called three 24-hour strikes and workers downed tools at a number of engineering companies. In return for agreeing the shorter week, employers gained a right to offer more workers 40-hour contracts, meaning the deal will offer more flexibility.
The union’s demands reflect changing working preferences of employees who want more private time instead of more pay. Some want to care for their children or ailing parents while others want to engage in communal work.
Jorg Hoffman leader of IG Metall, said the agreement was a “milestone on the way to a modern, self-determined world of work”.
Rainer Dugler, head of the employers’ association for the industry, echoed his remarks, saying: “It was worth the effort. We have laid the foundation for a flexible working time system.”
The deal represents a major breakthrough for flexible working in Europe, and comes partly in response to the rise of the so-called gig economy, where workers are able to control their own hours with much greater ease than those on full time contracts.
It also reflects growing self-confidence among trade unions in Germany, who say that as the country’s economy is set to grow by roughly 2 per cent this year employees should get a fair share of the success.