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Could a German 28-hour week make waves across Europe?

FRANKFURT AM MAIN, Germany: Germany’s powerful metalworking union IG Metall has agreed with bosses on a new right to switch temporarily to a 28-hour week.

Could the example from Europe’s largest economy — often a trailblazer in labour relations — be echoed by other countries?

What’s new about the February 6 deal?

As well as a pay rise, metalworkers in prosperous southwestern state Baden-Wuerttemberg agreed with bosses that they can in future switch temporarily to shorter hours.

Part-time working is not a new concept in German labour law, but it’s the first time employers will not have a veto even if they fear it will disrupt business.

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Employees would switch from the present 35-hour limit to 28 hours per week for up to two years before a return to full-time work.

Until now, those switching temporarily to shorter hours have enjoyed no guarantee they could reclaim their full-time post.

Their salary will fall in line with the shorter number of hours, but some beneficiaries like young parents, those caring for elderly relatives or people doing shift work, will be able to take more paid holidays.

Baden-Wuerttemberg’s deal is likely to be extended to the rest of Germany, as the state is often used as a test case by employers and unions.

Comparison of the average number of hours worked per week in EU member countries

Could the 28-hour week spread?

Germany is basking in a period of high growth, historic low unemployment at 5.4 percent in January and a shortage of skilled labour, meaning workers could bring maximalist demands to talks with employers.

But the deal “is not transplantable to France” where unemployment is close to double its neighbour’s rate despite accelerating growth, said Pierre Gattaz, head of French employers’ association Medef.

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