Ig Metall logo on the side of a beige building in Berlin, Germany.
IG Metall building in Berlin, Germany. Image: © Tobias Arhelger/Stock.adobe.com

German trade union calls for four-day weeks instead of Covid job cuts

2 Sep 2020

According to the chair of trade union IG Metall, opting for four-day weeks instead of job cuts could help businesses retain skilled staff and save on redundancy costs.

Four-day weeks have been a topic of discussion over the years, but Covid-19 may have caused many to seriously reconsider this way of working. This week, Germany’s largest trade union, IG Metall, has proposed negotiations for shorter working weeks in a bid to save jobs amid the economic impacts of the pandemic.

Founded in 1949, IG Metall currently has more than 2.2m members across iron and steel, craft, wood, plastic, metal, electrical and textile services industries.

In July, IG Metall supported workers protesting against job cuts due to Covid-19. At the time, more than 300 workers from pump manufacturer Flowserve SIHI marched against plans to cut 100 jobs. IG Metall responded that “short-time work and reduced working hours” should take precedence over short-term staff reductions.

According to Eurostat, Germany already has one of the shortest average working weeks in Europe at 34.2 hours. But IG Metall’s chairperson, Jörg Hofmann, advised that cutting hours instead of jobs would benefit businesses, allowing them to keep skilled workers and save on redundancies.

Covid-19 has put 300,000 jobs in Germany’s metal and electrical industries at risk, according to Reuters, and the country’s movements towards electric cars threatens “tens of thousands of engine and gearbox manufacturing jobs”.

Four-day weeks elsewhere

Earlier this year, New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern flagged four-day working weeks as a potential measure to consider for the country’s economic recovery after Covid-19 and to boost domestic tourism.

Speaking in a Facebook Live video in May, Ardern said: “I hear lots of people suggesting we should have a four-day work week. Ultimately, that really sits between employers and employees. But as I’ve said, there’s just so much we’ve learned about Covid and that flexibility of people working from home, the productivity that can be driven out of that.

“I’d really encourage people to think about that if you’re an employer and in a position to do so. To think about if that’s something that would work for your workplace, because it certainly would help tourism all around the country.”

While four-day weeks haven’t become the norm in Ireland, some companies had opted for the shorter week before the Covid-19 pandemic, such as Donegal-based 3D Issue. And although flexible working weeks now have “broad support” in Ireland, according to PwC’s Ger McDonough, companies need to get “smarter” about it if they want to introduce new arrangements such as four-day weeks.

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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