35-hour week agreed in eastern steel industry
In June 2003, the bargaining parties in the eastern German steel industry signed a new collective agreement on the staged introduction of a 35-hour working week by 2009. The deal was reached after four days of strike action.
On 7 June 2003, the German Metalworkers' Union (Industriegewerkschaft Metall, IG Metall) and the employers' association for the German steel industry (Arbeitgeberverband Stahl) agreed on the phasing-in of a 35-hour working week in the eastern German steel industry by 2009. Collectively agreed working time in the eastern steel industry is currently 38 hours a week, while a 35-hour week applies in the sector in western Germany. The new framework agreement on employment conditions (Manteltarifvertrag) now provides for a step-by-step reduction in standard working time as follows:
- from 1 April 2005 a weekly working time of 37 hours;
- from 1 April 2007 a weekly working time of 36 hours; and
- from 1 April 2009 a weekly working time of 35 hours.
Working time at company level is to be regulated by works agreement s and may differ from the collectively agreed standard working time. The reference period over which the standard working time must be observed on average has extended from one to two calendar years.
A 'revision clause' has been inserted into the collective agreement which provides that any stage in the reduction of working time will not come into effect if the bargaining parties agree six months in advance that the reduction is not reasonable on economic grounds. Each stage in the reduction of working time may be postponed for a year. If the bargaining parties cannot agree on this issue, an arbitration procedure will determine the outcome.
Prior to the settlement, several attempts to reach an agreement failed. IG Metall argued that the economic conditions indicated that the time was ripe to bring the agreed weekly working time in the eastern steel industry into line with the 35 hours in the west. This demand was rejected by employers on the grounds that it was too costly. Following the breakdown of negotiations, IG Metall held a ballot and called industrial action. After four days of strike action, the parties returned to the bargaining table and settled the dispute.