'Employees have a right to work from home': Calls for German heatwave action plan

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'Employees have a right to work from home': Calls for German heatwave action plan
Greens are calling for 'home office' on hot days. Photo: DPA

The mercury is rising and experts believe extreme temperatures will become more frequent in future. How should the country deal with it?


As record-breaking temperatures take hold, people in Germany are trying to get through the uncomfortable weather.

But one political party says the country should be better prepared for heatwaves – especially as researchers believe they will be more common (and even hotter) in future.

The Greens say that during extreme heat employees should be able to work from home and those who have to do their job outdoors should be given "hitzefrei" (free from the heat) leave. They also say elderly and sick people need more attention.

It's part of their so-called "heat action plan". "We must prepare ourselves for the fact that heatwaves will continue to increase with the ongoing climate crisis,” the party said.

The plan, seen by Spiegel, was drawn up by Anton Hofreiter, leader of the Green parliamentary group, and Bettina Hoffmann, the Greens' environmental expert. 

Among other things, Hofreiter and Hoffmann call for a "right to 'home office' for all employees, "unless there are operational reasons" that don't allow that.

Employees who work outdoors, for example on construction sites, in agriculture or cleaning buildings, must be granted a "right to be free of heat in the event of heat hazardous to health".

However, employers' groups slammed the demand, saying it was unrealistic, reported DPA.

READ ALSO: Climate crisis: Berlin to be 'as hot as Australia in 30 years'

The paper claims that the coalition, made up of Angela Merkel's conservative party (the CDU and sister party the CSU) as well as the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), is not doing enough to protect people from the heat.

So far, the federal government has published non-binding recommendations for action, but has not initiated a joint action plan by the federal and state governments on how to deal with rising temperatures.

"Heatwaves are a serious problem for elderly and sick people," Hofreiter told Spiegel.

READ ALSO: Is it ever legally too hot to go to work or school in Germany?

'Germany should look to France'

The Greens cite France as a role model. The government there is already implementing a multi-stage heat action plan.

"We urgently need a coordinated heat action plan to prepare our society for the extreme heat and protect our health," Hofreiter said.

According to figures from the Robert Koch Institute, more than a thousand people died in the states of Berlin and Hesse alone during the summer of 2018 as a result of the heat.

People cooling down in Passau, Bavaria. Photo: DPA

The Greens want to see nationwide "monitoring of heat-related deaths" so more lives can ultimately be saved.

"The topic of climate change and health must be given much greater consideration in medical studies," Hoffmann said.

People who are particularly susceptible to heat, such as the elderly, "should be protected from heat exposure".

The party suggests a network of professional and neighbour support services be launched where volunteers would take care of people at risk. Meanwhile "cool rooms" could be set up in health care facilities.

As part of their plan, the party also demands more green spaces in cities.

"Trees, parks, green open spaces and walkways" act like "large cooling air-conditioning systems," say Hofreiter and Hoffmann. 

Within the framework of urban development funding, the government is already set to provide financial support for the installation of free drinking water stations in the inner cities and heat hotspots, as well as at bus stops and train stations.

Useful rain

And even if thunderstorms come with the heat during the summer months, the Greens believe this could be useful.

They want to see more water from "heavy rainfall" be stored in underground water reservoirs that allow rainwater to seep away.

"At the same time, it can be used to cool our cities and relieve the burden on the sewage system,” they said.


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