ÖTV leader sets 30-hour week as long-term goal
In an interview in February 1998, the president of Germany's public sector workers' union, ÖTV, stated that in the long run there is no alternative to an extensive reduction of working time to as low as 30 hours a week in order to solve the unemployment problem.
On 16 February 1998, the president of the Public Services, Transport and Traffic Union (Gewerkschaft Öffentliche Dienste, Transport und Verkehr, ÖTV), Herbert Mai, stated in an interview that in the long run there is no alternative to an extensive reduction of working time in order to solve the unemployment problem. For Mr Mai, the introduction of the 30-hour week could be an important step towards halving unemployment in Germany. In the public services sector alone, a weekly reduction of one hour in working time would have an "arithmetical employment effect", producing 135,000 new jobs. At the moment, weekly working time in public services is 38.5 hours in western Germany and 40 hours in eastern Germany.
Mr Mai also called for the halving of the current 240 million hours of overtime worked per year in the public sector, which he said could create another 71,000 new jobs. On the relationship between wages and working time reduction, Mr Mai declared that if the employers would commit themselves to creating new employment, the union would agree to working time reduction with only partial wage compensation.
The proposal to set the 30-hour week as a long-term goal led to quite controversial reactions among the social partners. The proposal has been welcomed by several other trade unions: the leader of the German White-Collar Workers' Union (Deutsche Angestellten Gewerkschaft, DAG), Ronald Issen, supported the proposal as a long-term goal for a fairer distribution of work; while support also came from the IG Metall metalworkers' union, which referred to the proposal for a 32-hour week which had been made by its president, Klaus Zwickel, in April 1997 (DE9704208F).
A more sceptical comment came from the president of the Mining, Chemical and Energy Union (Industriegewerkschaft Bergbau, Chemie, Energie, IGBCE), Hubertus Schmoldt, who pointed out that a one-sided concentration on weekly working time reduction is the wrong approach, because the length of working time is becoming increasingly flexible.
A sharp rejection of Mr Mai's proposal came from the public employers. In a statement by the Federal Ministry of the Interior (Bundesinnenministerium), which is responsible for collective bargaining in the public sector, it was stated that the introduction of a 30-hour week would only increase labour costs and therefore create even more unemployment. The spokesperson for the municipal employers, Lothar Ruschmeier, declared that, in order to secure employment in the public sector, further reductions in labour costs were necessary. M. Ruschmeier, therefore, sees not a working time reduction but a working time extension without wage compensation as a necessary task for the future.