Germany: Study reveals huge gap between collectively agreed and usual weekly working time

Data produced by the German Federal Statistical Office and the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health show substantial differences, across and between sectors, in working time that has been collectively agreed and in actual working time. The data also reveal that in general people working longer hours are more likely to report negative health problems.

Introduction

In the past few years, standard daily working time in Germany has been the subject of strong public policy debate. Employers have called for more flexibility and for a standard weekly working time, rather than a statutory eight-hour day, while trade unions have backed the eight-hour day and demanded more autonomy in determining working time.

A 2016 Eurofound study on working time categorises Germany as having a ‘negotiated working time regime’, meaning that working time standards are set mainly by bargaining at sectoral or establishment level. The study found that, in negotiated working time regimes, agreed weekly working time tends to be shorter and the difference between the agreed and the usual working time (termed ‘working time drift’) tends to be lower than in regimes where the social partners play a lesser role in negotiations.

This article gives some evidence of the working time drift in Germany based on data from the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA) and the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis). It shows that:

  • usual working hours (for both full-time and part-time workers) differ from agreed hours in two ways (longer or shorter average weekly working hours);
  • if only full-time workers are considered, large differences between agreed and usual working time can be seen.

The findings indicate that the negotiated working time regime already provides broad room for manoeuvre and that, due to the decrease in agreement coverage, the setting of working time is more individualised.

Legal background

The German Working Time Act (ArbZG) takes into consideration the legal status of particular ‘special’ groups of employees and gives a strong role to the collective bargaining partners. As a result, several variations in working time are possible.

The ArbZG covers workers and trainees in vocational training, but excludes managers who are paid more than the amount set out in the collectively agreed pay scale, self-employed workers, civil servants and clergy. Civil servants are instead covered by rules issued by their federal employer and by each of the 16 Länder; ministers are covered by the unilateral ordinances of the Protestant and Catholic Churches. Special regulations cover (cross-border) transport:

  • seafarers are covered by supranational regulations;
  • workers in road transport are covered by EU law;
  • workers in air transport are covered by a German ordinance;
  • workers in inland waterways are covered by collective agreements.

The ArbZG contains opt-outs for on-call work (such as that found in the health sector and emergency services) and for agriculture (animal production). In addition, the social partners – and, by means of an opening clause, works council and management at establishment level – may deviate from the ArbZG by settling agreements on:

  • working time;
  • overtime and the reference period for balancing out overtime;
  • rest periods and breaks;
  • the location of working time.

If a collective agreement is not applied and there is no works council, the employer may turn to the authorities for authorisation to deviate from the ArbZG. This will be granted in cases of urgency. In any of these cases, the individual worker has to consent, in writing, to the working time and to any changes to it.

The ArbZG stipulates an eight-hour day, which can be extended to 10 hours if adjusted over a period of six months (the Working Time Directive specifies four months). As Saturday is a working day, weekly hours can potentially reach a maximum of 60 hours even though the Working Time Directive gives 48 hours as a limit.

During the 1970s to 1990s, trade unions achieved substantial reductions in weekly working hours by collective bargaining; however, agreed hours have been stable for more than a decade although they have increased for civil servants.

Evidence on collectively agreed and usual working time

The 2016 national report on safety and health at work by the BAuA is based on working time data from its new panel survey on working time. The data have some limitations because the survey focused on the health impact of standard working time settings and therefore excludes workers on very short part-time contracts working less than 10 hours per week. According to the micro census, these workers account for 4.8% of all workers. However, BAuA includes self-employed workers who are not covered by the ArbZG. The first survey was run in 2015 and covered employees (n = 20,030) aged 15 or older who pursued gainful employment of at least 10 hours per week; self-employed workers, civil servants, working family members, trainees, university students with an employment contract and those in mandatory internships were excluded.

The table below gives the collectively agreed working time by sector as listed by Destatis, the agreed working time as reported by the BAuA survey, and the actual weekly working time.

Firstly, it shows that collectively agreed working time is lower than the agreed working time given by respondents. This can be readily explained by the fact that 53% of all eastern German and 42% of all western German workers are not covered by collective agreements, as reported in a 2017 study.

Secondly, full-time workers in all sectors reported that they worked significantly more hours than the agreed working time. The working time drift is particularly large in the manufacturing, energy supply and water supply/waste disposal sectors. The manufacturing sector, which had a history of strong industrial relations and of agreed working time reductions before 2000, is noticeable for particularly large differences (the collectively agreed working time is 35 hours, while the usual working time for a full-time worker is 43.5 hours), indicating that agreed overtime is widespread in these sectors.

Thirdly, the table shows that the average working time (full-time and part-time) in some sectors is shorter than the collectively agreed one (arts/entertainment/recreation, health and social care, hotels/restaurants and retail). This is due to a high share (up to 33% or more) of part-time workers in the sector. Sectoral working time is not only set by the ArbZG and collective agreements, but is also affected by the type of employment contract and form of employment. By excluding work contracts with less than 10 hours per week (often so-called mini-jobs with an earnings limit of €450 per month, but no working time threshold), the BAuA data underestimate the working time drift between the working hours as agreed by the social partners and the extent of low working hours in these sectors.

Agreed and actual weekly working hours

Sector

Collectively agreed working time*

Agreed working hours (self-reported)

Actual hours worked by male full-time workers

Actual hours worked by emale full-time workers

Actual hours worked by full-time workers

 

 

Actual hours worked by part time-workers 

Actual working hours total**

Agriculture/forestry

39.4

40.1

45.9

45.8

41.1

Manufacturing idustries

35.8

38.5

43.5

42.0

43.2

23.2

40.7

Energy supply

38.0

38.6

44.0

42.9

43.7

41.7

Waste disposal, water supply

38.4

39.3

44.7

43.4

41.8

Construction

39.3

39.4

44.1

42.7

43.7

23.2

41.6

Distributive trades, maintenance

37.7

38.5

44.1

42.1

43.1

22.6

35.6

Transport, logistics

39.0

39.9

45.7

41.2

44.8

22.2

41.3

Hotel/ restaurants

39.1

39.1

46.0

43.3

44.9

20.2

36.7

Information/ communication

37.6

38.9

45.0

41.2

44.0

22.5

40.1

Financial intermediary services

38.6

38.7

43.4

41.6

42.7

24.1

38.0

Real estate, renting

37.4

38.8

42.7

42.3

42.3

37.5

Professional, technical and scientific services

38.2

38.6

44.4

43.7

43.7

23.6

38.9

Other business services

35.9

39.6

44.8

44.5

44.5

20.6

37.7

Public administration

39.9

39.6

44.6

43.7

43.7

23.7

39.4

Education and training

40.0

35.9

45.6

42.4

43.9

23.9

39.4

Health and social care

39.1

38.0

44.3

42.1

42.9

23.8

36.5

Arts, entertainment and recreation

39.1

39.1

45.5

43.7

20.3

35.4

Other services

38.9

38.1

43.2

42.1

42.2

23.0

36.1

Total

38.3

 

44.3

 

 

 

 

Source: *Federal Statistical Office (2016), Verdienste und Arbeitskosten. Index der Tarifverdienste und Arbeitszeiten, Table 4; ** BAuA (2016), Sicherheit und Gesundheit bei der Arbeit 2015, Table 21

According to the survey, 24% of all male workers and 9% of all female workers say they work 48 hours or more per week; under the ArbZG, this is set out as the maximum, with the proviso that it is balanced out by free time within six months. Most of those working very long hours are highly skilled, and report high job satisfaction with not much stress. However, the BAuA data also reveal that the longer the working hours the stronger is the impact on health. The figure below shows the effect of working hours on self-reported health problems.

Self-reported health problems according to weekly working hours

Source: BAuA

Commentary

There is a continuing debate on amending the ArbZG to provide for more flexibility. However, it already gives broad scope for adapting working time to sectoral and company needs via collective bargaining. A simple comparison of sectoral collectively agreed working time with the survey findings by BAuA has limitations as the surveyed employees are not congruent with the workers covered by the agreements made by the social partners, although the comparison nevertheless provides trends. These point to growing variations in weekly working time and to large differences between working time, as set out in agreements, and the usual working hours of full-time workers.

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