Working time developments - annual update 1999

In this annual update, we review developments in the length of working time across the European Union (plus Norway) in 1998 and 1999. We find that average collectively agreed weekly working time stood at 38.6 hours in 1999, with little change from 1998, and that there is a relatively small range between the highest average agreed hours (40 in Greece, Luxembourg and Sweden) and the lowest (37 in Denmark and the Netherlands). Usual weekly hours are on average two hours longer than the collectively agreed norm. In sectoral terms, banking has a shorter average agreed week than local government and metalworking.

The length of working time has been a core issue in collective bargaining and labour law since their inception. At various times, the working time debate has focused on health and safety, the quality of life and, especially in recent years, employment creation and competitiveness. The relationship between the duration of working time and its organisation has been a key issue in recent years, with many cases of employers trading cuts in working hours for greater flexibility. Working time is also one of the areas of employment conditions where the EU has intervened through legislation, principally the 1993 Directive on certain aspects of the organisation of working time, which, among other provisions, set a maximum 48-hour working week.

The issue remains highly topical. The EU's current Employment Guidelines invite the social partners "to negotiate at all appropriate levels agreements to modernise the organisation of work, including flexible working arrangements, with the aim of making undertakings productive and competitive and achieving the required balance between flexibility and security. Such agreements may, for example, cover ... the reduction of working hours." Achieving further reductions in working time is still a central demand for the trade union movement across Europe. For example, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) adopted a resolution at its 1999 congress (EU9907182F) which included a commitment to continue campaigning for a 35-hour week and all other forms of reduction and reorganisation of working time through collective bargaining "combined, where necessary, in an appropriate fashion with legislative initiatives." The European Metalworkers' Federation (EMF) adopted in 1998 a working time charter (BE9912311F) which: set a target of a 35-hour working week with no loss of pay; rejected all demands for an extension of working time; and laid down a European minimum standard of 1,750 hours maximum contractual working time per year (which translates as a 38-hour week). At national level, working time reductions are high on the current bargaining and legislative agenda in countries such as France, Greece and Italy.

The aim of this annual update from the European Industrial Relations Observatory (EIRO), based on contributions from its national centres, is to provide an overview of the duration of working time in the EU (plus Norway) in 1999 and 1998. As with other areas of labour statistics, there are numerous difficulties in making international comparisons on the length of working time. Comparable data are not collected in all countries, while particular problems include: the existence of different ways of calculating working time, with annual, rather than weekly calculation increasingly common in some countries; the fact that working time reductions in some countries have been introduced through extra days off or cuts in annual hours, leaving the normal working week relatively unchanged; the increasing use of schemes whereby weekly hours may vary considerably around an average over a reference period; the treatment of part-time workers; and the differing roles of bargaining and legislation, with the latter having an impact on actual hours in some countries, but setting only a maximum safety net in others. Normal weekly working hours figures are also problematic in terms of comparing working time between countries as they do not take matters such as overtime or the length of annual and other forms of leave into account. As with all EIRO annual updates, the aim here is to provide some broad general data on current developments, while pointing out the pitfalls involved in comparisons. For reasons of space, and because our aim is not to provide a statistical guide, we do not provide full definitions of how the figures are arrived at for each country, but merely call attention to the problems. The figures provided should be treated with extreme caution, and the various notes and explanations read with care.

Average collectively agreed weekly hours

Collective bargaining plays a key role in determining the duration of working time in all the countries considered here. However, the nature of this role differs widely between the countries, with different bargaining levels (intersectoral, sectoral, company etc) playing different parts, and bargaining coverage varying considerably. Furthermore, the importance of bargaining differs considerably between sectors of the economy and groups of workers. The relationship between bargaining and legislative provisions also varies between countries. Figure 1 below sets out the average normal weekly working hours for full-time workers as set by collective bargaining, across the whole economy, for all 16 countries concerned in 1999.

Source: EIRO; * 1998 figure.

Figure 1 should be read in conjunction with the following notes.

  • Belgium: the figure refers to the statutory working week set by the intersectoral collective agreement (which fell from 40 in 1998 to 39 in 1999).
  • Finland: the figure is from Statistics Finland structure of earnings statistics.
  • France: statutory normal weekly hours, usually followed in sectoral agreements.
  • Germany: the figures cover west Germany; the figure for east Germany was 39.2 in 1999; data from the WSI collective agreement archive.
  • Italy: the figures represent the mid-range of agreements which provide for 36-40 hours per week; data from CNEL working time statistics.
  • Luxembourg: the figures are estimates.
  • Portugal: statistics from survey by DETEFP, Ministry of Labour and Solidarity.
  • Spain: estimate (assuming a six-day week and 274 working days a year) based on MTAS figures for annual hours.
  • Sweden: statutory weekly hours, normally followed in sectoral agreements (though with exceptions for some white-collar groups).
  • UK: the 1999 figure (derived from the Labour Force Survey) was reported in the Labour Research Department (LRD) Bargaining Report 197, September 1999.

The figure gives figures only for 1999, because these are in almost all cases identical to those for 1998. The only substantial change was in Belgium, where the statutory working week set by intersectoral collective agreement fell from 40 hours to 39 on 1 January 1999 (figures are not available for the weekly hours set by lower-level collective agreements, but see the sectoral data below). This indicates that major working time reductions have stalled across the EU in 1999 - though 2000 will see major change in at least France, when the statutory 35-hour week comes into force (FR0001137F). Other points to emerge from the figures include the following:

  • the range of normal weekly agreed hours is now relatively narrow across the 16 countries, with only three hours separating the minimum (37 hours) from the maximum (40 hours);
  • it is hard to discern any clear trend in relation to geographical groups of countries. While it is true that the southern Member States of Greece and Portugal are among those with the highest weekly hours, and the Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland and Norway are among those with the lowest, Sweden and Luxembourg are also among the countries with long hours, while Italy and Spain are at or below the average; and
  • in all countries, the long-standing trade union goal of a 35-hour week is far from being reached (though it has been achieved in particular sectors, such as German metalworking - see below)

Collectively agreed annual working time figures - which may be a more accurate measure of the duration of working time - are available for a few countries, and are listed in table 1 below.

Table 1. Average collectively agreed annual working hours, 1998 and 1999
Country 1998 1999
Germany 1,643.2 nd
Italy 1,665 1,665
Spain 1,768.1 1,760.7

Source: EIRO.

nd = no data available

The figures in table 1 should be read in conjunction with the following notes.

  • Germany: the figure covers west Germany only; data from the WSI collective agreement archive.
  • Italy: the figures represent the mid-range of agreements which provide for 1,580-1,750 hours per year; data from CNEL working time statistics.
  • Spain: statistics from MTAS labour statistics publications; the figure for 1999 relates to the year to November 1999.

Collectively agreed weekly hours by sector

Turning from the whole economy to individual sectors, we provide figures below for average normal weekly working hours for full-time workers as set by collective bargaining in sectors selected to represent manufacturing industry (metalworking), services (banking), and the public sector (local government). While these more specific figures are probably more accurate than the overall average figures given in the previous section, extreme caution is again advised in their use, and the notes under each figure should be read carefully - all the caveats which are noted above also apply to the sectoral statistics.

Comparing the three sectors, in 1999, the highest average collectively agreed weekly hours were found in banking at 37.6 hours, followed by local government at 37.9 hours and metalworking at 38.4 hours. In all three sectors, average hours were below the overall whole-economy average of 38.6 hours. In none of the three sectors were there any major changes between 1998 and 1999 (with UK local government the only exception), providing more evidence of an apparent standstill in the move towards shorter working hours.

Metalworking

Figure 2 below provides data only for 1999, reflecting again the fact that there was virtually no change from the 1998 figure in all countries. The longest weekly hours (40) are found in Greece, Italy, Portugal and Sweden, and the lowest - by some distance - in Germany (35). The range, at five hours, is greater than that found for overall average weekly hours (three hours, see above). The overall ranking of the countries is similar to that for the whole-economy figures, though working hours in German and Luxembourg metalworking are notably lower than the national average, while those in Finland and Italy are notably higher. Overall, the average agreed working week in metalworking, at 38.4 hours, is lower than the overall average (38.6), but only by a little - perhaps surprising for a sector that has often been at the forefront of breakthroughs in working time reduction. The EMF's proposed minimum standard of a 38-hour week maximum working week is yet to be achieved either on average or in nine of the 16 countries considered. However, the existence of various flexibility schemes and working time reductions implemented through time off rather than a cut in the basic working week means that no firm conclusions can be drawn on these points.

Source: EIRO; * 1998 figure; ** 1997 figure.

Figure 2 should be read in conjunction with the following notes.

  • Austria: the metalworking sector operates a flexible working hours scheme.
  • France: a 1998 agreement introducing a 35-hour week has not been extended to the whole sector.
  • Germany: the figures, from the WSI collective agreement archive, apply to west Germany - the figure for east Germany was 38 hours in both 1998 and 1999.
  • Italy: collectively agreed annual hours stood at 1,736 in both 1998 and 1999.
  • Luxembourg: the figures take account of 12 days additional leave per year.
  • Netherlands: estimate based on an annual figure of 1,728 hours.
  • Portugal: figure relates to the national sectoral agreement published in August 1998 (and thus valid from this date).
  • Spain: estimate (assuming a six-day week and 274 working days a year) based on MTAS figures for annual hours of 1768.3 in 1998.
  • Sweden: the figures relate to blue-collar workers - white-collar workers' hours may be lower
  • UK: the figures represent the mid-range of agreements which provide for 37-37.5 hours per week in both 1998 and 1999; data for 1998 from LRD Bargaining Report 186, September 1998; data for 1999 from LRD Bargaining Report 197, September 1999.

Banking

Figure 3 below provides data only for 1999, reflecting once again the fact that there was virtually no change from the 1998 figure in all countries. The longest weekly hours (40) are found in Luxembourg, and the lowest - by some distance - in Portugal and the UK (35). As with metalworking, the range, at five hours, is greater than that found for overall average weekly hours (three hours, see above). Working hours in Belgian, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish and UK banking are notably lower than the national average, while those in Germany (perhaps surprisingly) are notably higher. Overall, the average agreed working week in banking, at 37.6 hours is lower than the overall average (38.6) - perhaps reflecting the predominance of white-collar workers (who in many countries traditionally have shorter hours than blue-collar workers) in this sector.

Source: EIRO; * 1998 figure.

Figure 3 should be read in conjunction with the following notes.

  • Finland: the figures, from Statistics Finland structure of earnings statistics, refer to the whole financial intermediation sector.
  • Germany: the figures, from the WSI collective agreement archive, apply to both west and east Germany.
  • Italy: collectively agreed annual hours stood at 1,689 in both 1998 and 1999.
  • Norway: banking employees work only 35 hours per week over May-August - this is not taken into account in the average figures given.
  • Portugal: a 35-hour week was introduced by an agreement published in, and valid from, August 1990, which remains in force.
  • Spain: estimate (assuming a six-day week and 274 working days a year) based on MTAS figures for annual hours of 1725.9 in 1998; the figures refer to the whole financial intermediation sector.
  • UK: data for 1998 from LRD Bargaining Report 186, September 1998; data for 1999 from LRD Bargaining Report 197, September 1999

Local government

Figure 4 below provides data only for 1999. The only change from the 1998 figures was that in the UK, a 1997 "single status" agreement introduced a 37-hour week by 1 April 1999 for former manual and craft local government workers, replacing a former 39-hour week. The longest weekly hours (40) are found in Austria, Greece, Luxembourg and Sweden, and the lowest in Portugal (35). As with metalworking and banking, the range, at five hours, is greater than that found for overall average weekly hours (three hours, see above). There are some clear departures from the overall national averages: working hours in Belgian, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese (very notably) and UK local government are notably lower than the national average, while those in Austria and Germany are notably higher. Overall, the average agreed working week in local government, at 37.9 hours, is lower than the overall average (38.6).

Source: EIRO; * 1998 figure.

Figure 4 should be read in conjunction with the following notes.

  • France: statutory normal weekly hours.
  • Germany: the figures, from the WSI collective agreement archive, apply to west Germany - the figure for east Germany was 40 hours in both 1998 and 1999.
  • Italy: collectively agreed annual hours stood at 1,577 in both 1998 and 1999.
  • Portugal: working time set by governmental orders, following consultation.
  • Spain: estimate (assuming a six-day week and 274 working days a year) based on MTAS figures for annual hours of 1644.3 in 1998; the figures refer to the whole public administration sector.
  • Sweden: the figure relates to the agreement for the 500,000 members of the Municipal Workers' Union.
  • UK: data for 1998 from LRD Bargaining Report 186, September 1998; data for 1999 from LRD Bargaining Report 197, September 1999.

Actual weekly working hours

Some of the problems with data about collectively agreed normal weekly hours are avoided in statistics on actual or usual weekly hours worked, typically measured in labour force surveys. These figures give a more accurate impression of how many hours workers actually work in a given week. National data on actual hours worked is based on differing definitions, so in figure 5 below we give the Eurostat figures for usual hours worked per week by full-time employees in the EU Member States, based on the 1998 Labour Force Survey, calculated in line with ILO guidelines.

Source: Eurostat Labour Force Survey 1998.

These figures include hours worked in excess of normal hours, principally overtime, so unsurprisingly they are generally higher than the statistics given in figure 1. Overall, the average usual working week is higher than the agreed normal week by nearly two hours across the EU. In one group of countries - including most of those with high collectively agreed normal hours - the usual working week is quite close to the agreed normal week: the two figures are within an hour of each other in Belgium, Finland, France, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg and Sweden (in Belgium and Luxembourg, usual hours are actually below agreed normal hours). At the other extreme are those countries where usual hours exceed normal agreed hours by two hours or more - Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and the UK (though the gap would be narrower in Germany if the figure for agreed hours included east Germany). The UK is the country with by far the largest gap (5.6 hours) between collectively agreed and usual hours - reflecting that country's long hours and overtime culture (UK0001150F), and the low coverage of collective bargaining (UK0001251F). The range between the highest and lowest usual weekly hours - 44 in the UK and 38.5 in Italy - is, at five and a half hours, considerably larger than that found for agreed normal hours (three hours).

As noted above, the national data on average actual weekly hours is problematic for purposes of comparison, given differing definitions. However, this information is provided in table 2 below, not least as it indicates movements between 1998 and 1999 in some countries. Slight decreases in actual hours were registered in France and the UK, and slight increases in Greece, Norway

Table 2. Average actual weekly working hours, full-time workers, 1998 and 1999
Country 1998 1999
Austria 38 nd
Belgium 38.6 nd
Denmark* 30.4 nd
Finland 38.2 nd
France 38.8 38.6
West Germany nd nd
Greece 41 41.2
Ireland 43 43
Italy 37 nd
Luxembourg 40 40
Netherlands 35.5 nd
Norway 34.7 nd
Portugal nd nd
Spain 40.4 40.4
Sweden nd nd
UK 40.2 40

Source: EIRO; *1997 figure.

nd = no data available

The figures in table 2 should be read in conjunction with the following notes.

  • Finland: the figure is from the Statistics Finland Labour Force Survey, annual average.
  • France: the 1998 figure relates to the second quarter of 1998, all non-agricultural sectors; the 1999 figure relates to the second quarter of 1999, all non-agricultural sectors.
  • Germany: the figures cover west Germany; the figures for east Germany were 39.3 in 1998 and 39.2 in 1999; data from the WSI collective agreement archive.
  • Greece: the figure for 1998 is from the Labour Force Survey; the figure for 1999 is an INE/GSEE-ADEDY estimate.
  • Italy: data from Istat; figures include part-time workers.
  • Luxembourg: statutory normal weekly hours.
  • Netherlands: estimate (assuming 46 working weeks in the year) based on an annual figure for full-time workers of 1,645 hours.
  • Norway: part-time workers are included in the figures, from Statistics Norway Labour Force Surveys.
  • Spain: statistics from National Institute for Employment (INE) labour force survey and include part-time workers; the 1999 figure is for the year to August 1999.
  • UK: the figures are for all adult full-time workers and are taken from the New Earnings Survey.
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