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WORKING IN GERMANY

German Labour Minister wants to allow more remote working after pandemic

Employees in Germany should be able to choose to work from home if possible even after the pandemic has ended, Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) said on Wednesday.

Working from home
A woman works from home in Wittenberge, Brandenburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

“I am in favour of learning fundamental lessons for the world of work from the Covid-induced large-scale experiment on working from home,” Heil said. 

With the pandemic forcing employers to allow more flexibility, the incumbent Labour Minister said he saw an opportunity to create “modern rules for mobile working in Germany” and enshrine the right to work from home in German law.

“A modern regulatory framework for mobile working is coming,” he promised. 

During the previous legislative period under the CDU/CSU-led Grand Coalition, Heil came out in favour of allowing employees to work from home for a minimum of 24 days per year.

But with the backing of the SPD’s new coalition partners – the Greens and FDP – it seems new legislation will go further to allow employees to choose where they work at any time. 

According to the Labour Minister, the new proposals stipulate that employers must allow their employees to work from home in future – unless remote working is impossible for logistical reasons. 

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“If employers refuse, there must be operational reasons against it – for example, because you work at the blast furnace in the steelworks and of course you can’t work from home,” Heil explained.

“But if the employer can’t give any operational reasons, then the legal right to be able to use home office applies. This gives many people the opportunity to work from home even after the pandemic and make family and work more compatible.”

For many people, remote working is a “new freedom”, Heil said. 

According to the SPD politician, the new legislation will also allow for more flexible arrangements where employees work from home occasionally but also have access to the office. 

Culture shift

With the onset of the Covid pandemic in spring 2020, the culture around remote working Germany has undergone major changes. 

Many employers who were previously unwilling to allow flexible working have been obliged since November to offer their employees the opportunity to work from home if there are no compelling reasons not to. 

While the shift has been a welcome one for many former commuters, the Labour Minister also pointed out what he described as “the downsides of home office”, which he said he would attempt to limit at all costs.

Hubertus Heil (SPD)

Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) speaks in an interview with dpa in January. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Britta Pedersen

“Work must not make people ill,” he said. “Even in a home office, there has to be an end to the working day.”

The regulatory framework on which his party, the SPD, the Greens and the FDP have agreed takes this into account.

According to the latest data from the Munich-based Ifo Institute, 27.9 per cent of employees worked at home at least some of the time in December last year. In August, the rate was 23.8 per cent.

In March last year, the Ifo Institute estimated that around 56 percent of the German workforce would be able to carry out their work remotely. 

READ ALSO: Are too many workers in Germany going into the office amid pandemic?

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COVID-19 TESTS

Germany to charge €3 for rapid Covid tests

Germany is set to end free rapid Covid tests for all from July. In future they will cost €3.

Germany to charge €3 for rapid Covid tests

Vulnerable groups, however, will still be able to get the tests, known as Bürgertests, free of charge under the plans.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said: “I will make no secret of the fact that I would have liked to have continued the free citizenship tests for all.”

However, Lauterbach said the taxpayer-funded testing strategy is costing an average of a billion euros per month.

“The truth is – unfortunately, we can’t afford that in the tight budget situation that awaits us in autumn,” he said. 

€3 contribution from July

The new testing regulations are to apply from the start of July.

The concept foresees expenditures of €2.7 billion by the end of the year. If the government had continued to offer free tests for all, the costs would have been around €5 billion.

The federal government also plans to reduce the amount that is given to the test centres per test – from the current €11.50 to €9.50.

In future, free rapid tests will continue to be available for vulnerable groups, including children up to five years of age, women at the beginning of pregnancy, and visitors to clinics and nursing homes.

The states will have the option of taking over the co-payment of €3 for other groups as well.

Lauterbach had previously spoken out in favour of continuing to provide free Covid tests for people with symptoms who suspect they have Covid, as well as before large events. 

READ ALSO: Germany to scrap free Covid tests for all 

Bürgertests should in future continue to be used specifically where they bring the greatest benefit,” said Lauterbach after the health ministers’ conference.

Lauterbach said he negotiated with Federal Finance Minister Christian Lindner to come up with the new testing system. 

“The use of taxpayers’ money will become more effective, as not everything can be paid by the federal government in the long run, because our possibilities have reached their limits,” said Lindner. 

Autumn Covid wave

Lauterbach also warned of a severe Covid wave in autumn.

“A very difficult time lies ahead,” the Health Minister said. He said the health ministers across Germany would take a joint approach to tackling the pandemic.

READ ALSO: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan 

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