Germany: Working time back on the social partners' agenda

Working time is set to be a high priority during the next collective bargaining round, according to the German Metalworkers’ Union (IG Metall), whose recent survey looked at working time satisfaction. Another survey, by the Federation of German Employers’ Associations in the Metal and Electrical Engineering Industries (Gesamtmetall), examined working time and flexibility issues.  

Background and current debate

In 2016, German Metalworkers Union (IG Metall) launched a Working Time Campaign calling for greater fairness and working time autonomy as well as improved safety and health conditions. IG Metall wants working time to be predictable and controllable, fully recorded and paid and says the demands of mobile and shift work must not harm workers’ health. Furthermore, collectively agreed working time should not exceed 35 hours per week, including in eastern Germany.

The union, which has two million members, says it will make working time a priority during the next collective bargaining round, starting at the end of 2017. This move needs to be seen against the background of technological change, namely digitalisation and the advancement of Industry 4.0. The union fears that old working time arrangements might erode, with employees increasingly suffering from greater working time pressure, flexibility demands and stress.

However, employers such as the German Confederation of Employers’ Associations (BDA) and the Federation of German Employer Associations in the Metal and Electrical Engineering Industries (Gesamtmetall) are calling for more working time flexibility in order to remain competitive and to take full advantage of new business opportunities offered by technological advancements.

BDA, for example, asserts that remaining competitive is key to protecting jobs. It argues that the comparatively low weekly working hours in Germany need to be balanced by increased flexibility – and that working time flexibility supports the reconciliation of work and family life. Companies have used different methods to achieve this, such as working time accounts or mobile work. However, against the background of technological progress, BDA is calling for a revision of the German Working Time Act, which includes rules on rest periods and the maximum daily working hours. BDA would like the law to more fully exploit the scope of the EU Working Time Directive, advocating a change in the statutory limit of a 10-hour working day to an overall weekly limit. It also wants collective bargaining parties to be able to deviate from the statutory rest period of 11 hours via a collectively agreed opening clause.

Employees’ working time satisfaction

In May, IG Metall published the results of its latest survey on working time (PDF), in which over 680,000 employees participated during January and February 2017. The data cover different sectors in the German industry, such as the metal and electrical industry, crafts, textile, woodworking and steel.

The results show that most employees (70.7%) are ‘satisfied’ or ‘relatively satisfied’ with their current working time. As for flexibility and time autonomy, 71.1% of the respondents stated that they coped well with the demanded flexibility in their job and 66.2% stated that flexible enough to arrange their working time.

The Working Time Survey 2017 also identified those factors that contribute positively to employees’ working time satisfaction and those that do not (see table below). On the positive side, over 60% of all respondents stated that their actual working time equalled their preferred working time. Furthermore, over 80% of the respondents thought that they enjoyed predictable and reliable working hours. Interestingly, mobile workers were not less satisfied with their actual working time and the predictability of their working hours than other employees. However, they enjoyed greater working time flexibility. Over 95% of mobile workers said they could take a couple of hours off at short notice, if their personal circumstances demanded it. Also, 73.3% of mobile workers could reduce their working time for a limited period of time. In both cases, the shares for the all respondents were much lower, at 85.6% and 58%, respectively (see table below).

The survey also identified factors negatively affecting working time satisfaction. Some 42.2% of mobile workers said they worked for too long – this share was much lower for all respondents (24.4%). On the other hand, only 7.2% of mobile workers were affected by regular Saturday work compared with 16.1% of the total respondents. Some 16.5% of all respondents reported having unpredictable working hours, which was only the case for 14.5% of mobile workers. Overall, mobile workers seem to enjoy greater working time autonomy and flexibility. However, it is not possible from the survey results to tell if this comes in exchange for overlong hours. Nonetheless, overlong hours do not lead to larger shares of mobile workers being dissatisfied with their working time model. On the contrary, 77.3% of mobile workers said they were satisfied with their current working time (all aspects regarded). This compares with 70.7% of all employees.

Factors contributing to workers' job satisfaction

 

Total

Mobile workers

Positive factors

 

Actual working time = preferred working time

63.8%

62.3%

Predictability, reliability

83.5%

85.5%

Able to take a couple of hours off at short notice

85.6%

96.9%

Able to reduce working time for a limited period of time

58.0%

76.3%

Negative factors

Overlong working hours

24.4%

42.2%

Regular weekend work (Saturdays)

16.1%

7.2%

No predictability or reliability

16.5%

14.5%

Under pressure to perform

27.3%

22.2%

Total satisfaction with working time

70.7%

77.35

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: IG Metal survey on working time, 2017 

Can working time flexibility be negotiated?

Employers' Federation Gesamtmetall also released the results of a survey on working time and flexibility issues (PDF). It surveyed more than 1,100 companies and over 1,000 employees from the metal and electrical industry on topics such as mobile work, working time autonomy, the reconciliation of work and family life, and the legislative framework on working time.

Some 44.7% of the companies that responded to the survey stated that they wanted to change the statutory limit of a 10-hour working day to an overall weekly limit. Another 23.8% also indicated this need, but only wanted the rules to change if their employees were able to (partially) determine the distribution of working hours. Some 23.6% of the surveyed companies rejected this change. When asked about the currently applicable rule of an 11-hour rest period, 59.7% of companies saw the need for change and 34.7% did not. While these results might not come as a surprise, the survey does allow for companies’ needs to be contrasted with employees’ opinions.

When employees were asked if they thought it would be possible to work more than 10 hours a day, in return for shorter or no working hours on another day, 77% of the surveyed metal workers thought it would be possible. However, 62% said it would be possible only if they agreed to such an arrangement. Just 15% thought it would be  possible if the employer ordered such a change, and 20% rejected the idea outright.

As for shortening the statutory rest period of 11 hours, 30.7% of the employers said they needed more flexible rules. Some 29% would support such a change, if their affected employees were able to (partially) determine their working time distribution; 34.7% did not see any need for a change in rules and 5.7% were undecided. Employees are more sceptical on this issue. While 44% do not want the period to be shortened, 40% stated that such a change would be possible if they had a say in distributing their working time. Another 21% thought it possible, provided there were clear and definite rules on such an arrangement and that total working time did not increase.

Are flexibility demands stressful?

Gesamtmetall also probed deeper into metalworkers’ preferences on receiving work-related phone calls or emails outside business hours. Some 70% of the respondents said they would be available for business emails or phone calls after business hours. Although the share of 70% seems high at first glance, it is worth looking at the frequencies with which employees were available during their leisure time. 40% of the affected employees reported that such calls or emails were exceptional while another 20% wanted to be able to make themselves available by their own accord. Some 8% of employees said they thought their employer implicitly expected them to be available, while just 2% of the employees were available because their employer actively requested it.

Among all the contacted employees, 48% said that receiving calls or emails from their superiors outside business hours did cause them stress. If co-workers contacted their colleagues during their free time, 55% of the affected employees did not feel stressed. Some 14% of all respondents indicated they were stressed when their boss contacted them outside working hours. Another 37% said that this was sometimes the case. Only 5% of affected employees said being contacted by their co-workers was stressful while another 39% stated that this was sometimes the case.

Commentary

As the latest survey results show, around 70% of workers in German industries are currently satisfied with their working time arrangements, and enjoy a certain flexibility to combine work and family life or respond to urgent private matters. Moreover, mobile work or availability outside business hours does not automatically translate into stress for metalworkers. Different rules on the 10-hour working day or the 11-hour rest period are also not completely rejected by them, but very much depend on employees’ active involvement in setting up and running such arrangements. Given these survey results, social partners should negotiate on flexibility issues and boundaries. The White Book on Working Time 4.0 (PDF) published by the Federal Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs in autumn 2016, for example, suggests creating space for social partners to confer and develop new working time arrangements. This seems to be an excellent way forward to facilitate future solutions.

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