Majority of Germans would like a four-day working week
Belgium recently became the latest country to offer employees a four-day working week. Now, trade unions in Germany - with the support of a majority of workers - are calling for working hours to be cut, but are encountering resistance from employers.
Germans favour shorter working week like in Belgium
According to a Forsa survey, 71 percent of people working in Germany would like to have the option to only work four days a week. The result comes just days after the Belgian government agreed to implement a four-day working week, which allows workers to squeeze their working hours into four days, if they wish, to better balance their time at work with their time spent with family - while still earning the same salary.
Unlike some countries around the world, Belgium has implemented a model that keeps the total working time the same. If someone works a 40-hour week, for instance, they have the option to work four 10-hour days, to get an extra day off, or work the normal five days.
The survey found that a substantial majority of people in Germany support the Belgian model. It is particularly popular among employees who graduated from higher education, and those aged between 30 and 44 - many of whom have children and struggle to juggle both the responsibilities of their job and childcare.
IG Metall negotiates shorter working hours for its members
German unions, meanwhile, have been promoting a model that sees employees work fewer days, and fewer hours overall, to avoid putting extra pressure on workers. “The survey shows that a four-day week is attractive for many employees,” said Thorben Albrecht, head of politics on the board of IG Metall, to Süddeutsche Zeitung. “However, unlike in Belgium, it should be combined with a reduction in working hours to prevent excessive daily working hours.”
IG Metall, which represents around 4 million employees in Germany, made the four-day working week a key issue at the latest round of collective bargaining negotiations. In the end, companies agreed to implement a four-day week as an option, allowing employees to work 32 hours per week (instead of 35) and be paid for 34. It remains to be seen whether other unions in Germany will be able to negotiate similar deals for their members.
Four-day working week debated worldwide
Germany is not alone in debating the concept. A four-day workweek is currently being trialled in Switzerland and Scotland, while other countries including Wales, Spain and Japan are considering a test run.
Between 2015 and 2019, Iceland trialled a four-day working week for thousands of employees, who cut their 40-hour weeks down to 35 or 36 hours per week, without having their pay cut. In 2021, the country announced that the scheme had been an “overwhelming success”, making employees happier without any loss of productivity. The country subsequently began to roll it out nationwide; 86 percent of the workforce has since taken up the offer.