Trade unions criticise employers over increased overtime working

In 2000, the number of paid overtime hours worked in Germany increased to a total of 1.85 billion, according to figures issued at the end of the year. While trade unions demand a significant reduction of overtime in order to create new jobs, the employers see overtime as a necessary tool of flexible work organisation, which could only be reduced by a further flexibilisation of working time arrangements.

At the beginning of January 2001, the Federal Employment Service (Bundesanstalt für Arbeit, BfA) announced that about 1.85 billion paid overtime hours were worked in Germany in 2000. Compared with the previous year, this represented an increase of 61 million paid overtime hours, leading to the highest number of annual overtime hours since 1995 - see table below. On average, each German employee worked about 61 hours of paid overtime in 2000.

Number of hours of paid overtime in Germany. 1995-2000
Year Number of hours of paid overtime
1995 1.937 billion
1996 1.741 billion
1997 1.784 billion
1998 1.787 billion
1999 1.789 billion
2000 1.850 billion*

* provisional data.

Source: Federal Employment Service.

Representatives of trade unions reacted to the announcement of the 2000 overtime figures by strongly criticising employers for not reducing the amount of overtime. The president of the IG Metall metalworkers' union, Klaus Zwickel, declared that, against the background of 3.8 million unemployed people in Germany, the enormous amount of overtime hours worked is a "social scandal", and he demanded a massive reduction in 2001. According to Mr Zwickel, a reduction by one-third of overtime hours and compensating a further third with additional time off (rather than pay) could lead to the creation of 400,000 new jobs.

Heinz Putzhammer, a German Federation of Trade Unions (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB) board member, accused employers of contravening the agreements reached within the national tripartite Alliance for Jobs (Bündnis für Arbeit) (DE9812286N). In July 1999, the Confederation of German Employers' Associations (Bundesvereinigung der Deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände, BDA) and DGB adopted a joint declaration within the framework of the Alliance which called for "an employment-creating reduction of overtime" (DE9907219F). If the employers were not able to fulfil their promise in the near future, said Mr Putzhammer, he would see a need to take legal action in order to limit the number of overtime hours.

The president of BDA, Dieter Hundt, rejected the trade union criticism, arguing that the increase in overtime hours is mainly the result of an improved economic situation. For employers, overtime is a necessary tool to facilitate a flexible response to a sudden increase in orders or an unexpected absence of employees through sickness. From the BDA perspective, there is also a need for overtime work because of a lack of specialist workers in many sectors. According to Mr Hundt, a further reduction of overtime would only be possible through a further significant flexibilisation of working time arrangements, such the introduction of long-term or working-life time accounts.

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