East German workers push for same reduced hours as west

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East German workers push for same reduced hours as west
A welder in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, in eastern Germany. Photo: DPA

Talks to reduce weekly working hours for east German metalworkers to match those in the west have failed.


Germany’s biggest union IG Metall wants to see metal and electrical workers in eastern Germany have their official weekly hours reduced by three hours - something which was agreed upon in the west of the country two decades ago.

The standard working week in the west of the country for this group of workers is 35 hours. This was introduced in the former West Germany in 1995, after years of compromises following the 1984 strike.

But in former East Germany, 38 hours remains the official norm, although there are some exceptions to allow employers to get around this maximum. 

However, this rule doesn't look like it will change anytime soon as employers and the union failed to reach an agreement after the latest round of talks held on Saturday. 

IG Metall, which has nearly 2.3 million members across Germany, said it was disappointed that employers were not prepared to reduce weekly working hours to match the west of the country. 

“30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, employers are refusing to adjust working conditions in east Germany,” said negotiator Olivier Höbel. “After six (rounds of) negotiations, we have found out that employers do not want the same working conditions (for east and west).”

Working hours still on the agenda

From the point of view of the Gesamtmetall employers' association, a solution is only possible "if it does not endanger either locations or jobs". 

There is a collective agreement on the table which provides for "a fixed, permanent weekly working time," "which is tailored to the needs of individual groups of employees through voluntary company agreements and which can be between 30 and 40 hours," the association said.

Gesamtmetall stated that the introduction of the 35-hour week for individual companies would also be possible from 2021.

IG Metall, however, criticized the employers' proposal as a "comprehensive deregulation program". They say the introduction of the 35-hour week in this way would not be binding and would only be possible with the employer's consent and full cost compensation by the employees. 

"Now we will put the reduction of working hours company by company on the agenda," Höbel said.

The metal union previously scored an achievement when it won higher pay and the right to a reduced working week - or 28 hours for up to 24 months -  for senior employees last year. 

READ ALSO: Metalworkers win milestone 28-hour week concession from bosses



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