German Metalworkers Win Right to 28-Hour Workweek in Union Deal

German Metalworkers Win Right to 28-Hour Workweek in Union Deal

After a series of strikes last week, the influential German union IG Metall sealed a deal with employers in which its members gained both an increase in pay and the right to a substantially shorter workweek, the Local reported on Tuesday:

Both the union and employers said in overnight statements they had reached a “tolerable compromise” with some “painful elements” covering 900,000 workers in key industrial state Baden-Wuerttemberg, which could be extended to the 3.9 million workers in the sector across the country. The key concession is the right for more senior employees to cut their working week to 28 hours for a limited period of six to 24 months.

The union had pushed for staff to have a right to more flexible working conditions around key life moments such as the birth of a child, looking after a relative or ill health — with the right to return to full-time hours afterwards. But bosses rejected unions’ demand that they continue paying full-time salaries to some of those who choose a limited period of reduced working hours. Meanwhile, employers also gained more flexibility, to increase willing workers’ weeks to 40 hours from the standard 35.

The agreement will also see the metalworkers’ pay increase by 4.3 percent, in addition to some one-off payments, in a compromise from their original demand of a 6 percent raise. Stefan Wolf, head of regional employers’ federation Südwestmetall, said that the compromise was “reasonably balanced” but said the deal would be “difficult to bear” for some firms.

IG Metall’s agreements often have benchmarking effects beyond the industrial workforce the union represents, the Financial Times points out. Other major unions have contract negotiations coming up this year, which could be influenced by this week’s outcome.

“Why does this matter, especially to US readers, in a time where unions and labor rights movements in general have been declining for ages?” Steve Boese asks rhetorically. Well, it says something about how work-life balance has become more of a priority for employees—a trend by no means limited to Germany, Europe, or the unionized workforce:

This effort by the metal workers union is really an attempt to try and marry some of the best features of the ‘regular’ employee (steady pay, benefits, some level of security, commitment to one company), with the ‘gig’ worker economy, (flexibility, work/life balance, control and freedom). … That is the way to think about this story if you are a business or HR leader in the US or anywhere really – this is not about the union or some kind of Euro-socialist approach to work.

It is about workers trying to find the ‘right’ kind of work/life balance and arrangement that fits for them in the modern world. And it is about companies trying to find ways to ensure their goals can also be met, knowing that for most of them, these goals can only be met through the success and well-being of their workforces.