In an interview with newspaper Die Welt, Scholz said hundreds of thousands of workers were already working shorter hours as Germany's export-oriented economy slumps and warned that the number could rise.
“On an average I expect around 250,000 part-time workers this year though many of those would be for a limited time,” Scholz said. The minister said that companies were introducing reduced working hours across all sectors but added that businesses linked to the car industry were the hardest hit.
“The important thing is that we're prepared for a rush by companies to get part-time workers,” he said, adding that a new law passed last year meant that the government would help affected workers for 18 months instead of 6 as was the case previously.
On Saturday, engineering giant Siemens became the latest company to admit it was planning to introduce reduced working hours at three plants in Germany. Many carmakers have already idled their plants for a few weeks and asked their workers to stay at home as global demand for German products falls.
Scholz said he expected a big rise in unemployment, saying he feared Germany might see an additional 250,000 people out of work this year. But he refused to say whether he believed joblessness would climb above the four-million mark. “Nobody owns a calculator with which he can seriously calculate such a figure,” he said.