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130 Int'l Lab. Rev. 495 (1991)
Employment Effects of Working Time Reductions in the Former Federal Republic of Germany

handle is hein.journals/intlr130 and id is 511 raw text is: International Labour Review, Vol. 130, 1991, No. 4

Employment effects of working time
reductions in the former
Federal Republic of Germany
T he trade union demand for a 35-hour week was undoubtedly one of the
most hotly debated social issues of the 1980s in the Federal Republic of
Germany. A   question arousing particular controversy was whether
redistributing the total volume of work in the economy was an effective
method of countering the high and persistent unemployment that had beset
the country since 1975 and until then had failed to respond to any form of
political or economic treatment.
The strategy of solving this problem by reducing working time is based
on a very simple concept. If every worker works slightly fewer hours, and
thus reduces his or her daily or weekly output by a fraction, then the total
labour input required for a given level of production can be shared out
among a greater number of people. The main benchmark for individual
working time is the standard number of working hours fixed by the parties
to the collective agreement. The union demand that the working week be
reduced from 40 to 35 hours was fairly predictable, both tactically and as an
employment promotion measure, since this is the only variable through which
the unions can bring their bargaining power directly to bear on the demand
for labour.
The May 1990 collective agreements for the metalworking and printing
industries appear to have settled once and for all the ten-year-old dispute
about the 35-hour week. Under the terms of the agreements in these two
sectors the working week is to be gradually reduced to 35 hours by 1995. This
ought to pave the way for other sectors to follow suit.
One debate that has not been settled, however, concerns the extent to
which working time reductions have contributed to the rising employment
levels of the past few years. Between 1984 and 1990 the number of
economically active persons went up by 2.05 million, or 7.8 per cent, to 28.44
million, while the number of employees increased by 2.12 million, or 9.1 per
* Economic and Social Research Institute (WSI) of the German Confederation of Trade
Unions (DGB).

Copyright © International Labour Organization 1991

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