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

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

'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

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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WEATHER

Snowfall due at the weekend as winter arrives in Germany

After a cold blast at the end of November, winter in Germany is set to begin with yet more snow, making it the perfect time to dig out a puffer coat and get out to Christmas market.

Snowfall due at the weekend as winter arrives in Germany

German punctuality has struck once again as winter looks set to arrive right on cue this year, with a flurry of snowfall, ice and frosty conditions in several regions of the country.

According to the German Weather Service (DWD), Saxony-Anhalt could see the mercury drop as low as -6C on Friday as snow continues to fall until the afternoon. The Harz mountains will also get a festive dusting of snow, with temperatures ranging from -1 to -3C in the coming days.   

Saturday is set to be overcast in the region with up to 5cm of snowfall, but things could dry up on Sunday as temperatures rise to a nippy 1-3C. The eastern states of Saxony and Thuringia can also expect icy conditions and snow over the weekend.

In North Rhine-Westphalia, snow is also expected at higher altitudes. In eastern Westphalia and in the Sauerland region, there could be light snowfall or sleet, DWD reported on Friday. Drivers and cyclists should exercise caution as roads are likely to become slippery due to fresh snow or freezing rain.

DWD explains that two high-pressure areas are currently causing colder winds to sweep across Germany. The first, which caused snow to fall overnight across central Germany, is gradually heading south towards France – though the second is set to bring another icy spell to the country on Friday evening and into Saturday.

Bavaria will be the first to experience the chill as the high-pressure zone travels across the Alps overnight. 

The southern state is likely to have a soggy start to the weekend, with rain falling at lower altitudes – though more hilly and mountainous areas will see some snow. But as temperatures drop during the night, residents of Bavaria could see as much as 5cm as snow on Saturday morning.

READ ALSO: Surviving winter: 8 tips for enjoying the cold like a true German

The rest of the weekend will likely be marked by uniform grey skies, frost and drizzle, though those lucky enough to live in an Alpine region could see a few precious rays of sunshine too.

The weather will also take a distinctly wintry turn in Berlin and Brandenburg over the weekend, as the cold front sweeps across northeastern Germany on Saturday and towards the Baltic Sea. 

Friday is likely to be mostly chilly and overcast, with occasional rain or sleet and maximum temperatures of 2C. 

In the night, however, southern Brandenburg will start to see some fresh snowfall, which will move up across Berlin and to the north of Brandenburg over the course of Saturday.

Snow falls outside the Reichstag in Berlin

Snow falls outside the Reichstag in Berlin on Wednesday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Soeder

Berliners should be sure to wrap up if they’re heading out to enjoy the festive scenes, since the mercury is likely to hover between zero and -2C. 

Will the snow settle? 

Unfortunately the dusting of white is unlikely to stick around long in most places – so make your snow angels while you can. 

Misty or overcast skies will return on Advent Sunday, while occasional drizzle could well turn Saturday’s snow into slush. Hilly and mountainous regions will be the only ones treated to an extra helping of snow.

Meanwhile, Monday is set to get off to a soggy and wet start, with rainfall in most regions and temperatures between 1C and 5C. 

READ ALSO: Will Germany see more snow this winter?

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