To save jobs: union boss wants four days a week

How can as many jobs as possible be saved in the corona pandemic? This question is becoming increasingly important for the trade unions. IG Metall suggests taking the automotive industry as an example.

In view of the corona crisis, IG Metall proposes agreeing a four-day week as an option for companies in the coming collective bargaining round in order to save jobs. “The four-day week would be the answer to structural change in sectors such as the auto industry. This means that industrial jobs can be kept instead of being written off,” said union leader Jörg Hofmann of the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”.

The companies have an interest in reducing working hours instead of laying off staff. “That secures skilled workers and saves costs for a social plan, for example,” said the IG Metall chairman. According to the newspaper, he announced that he would be calling for a wage increase in the coming collective bargaining round despite the recession. He called on the federal government to extend the duration of the short-time allowance to 24 months.

There are already several agreements in the automotive industry to respond to the slump in demand in the Corona crisis: Daimler has reached an agreement with the works council to reduce the weekly working time in administration and in production-related areas by two hours from October onwards without lowering wages. The automotive supplier ZF Friedrichshafen has negotiated a collective agreement with IG Metall, which provides that weekly working hours at German locations can be reduced by up to 20 percent. In return for the loss of income, the foundation group from Lake Constance wants to forego operational layoffs among the 50,000 employees in Germany by 2022 and not close any locations.

The regulation at the world‘s largest automotive supplier Bosch does not go that far. There, the working hours of employees in development, research, sales and administration at some locations in the greater Stuttgart area were reduced by up to ten percent by the end of the year. Around 35,000 employees are affected. The works agreement negotiated with the employee representatives replaces short-time working in these areas. Short-time working will continue to apply in production until the end of 2020. The locations should be able to react flexibly to fluctuating demand. The supplier Continental is also working on such a regulation.

Volkswagen as a role model

In future, this path should be open to all companies in the metal and electrical industry, said IG Metall boss Hoffmann, and called for a “certain wage compensation for the employees so that the employees can afford it.” The topic of how as many jobs as possible can be preserved in the corona pandemic is becoming increasingly important for unions. Because many companies are under increasing pressure to reduce personnel costs. In order to avoid mass layoffs, larger corporations in particular agree to reduce their weekly working hours.

The model they are based on is the four-day week with which Volkswagen saved tens of thousands of jobs in the early 1990s. While the employees of the car company in the German plants worked 20 percent less and had to forego part of their wages, the agreements today are differentiated and sometimes only apply to certain groups of employees or individual departments. But the principle is the same: the work is distributed differently so that as many as possible keep their jobs.

In contrast to short-time work, in which the Federal Employment Agency pays part of the lost income for a certain period of time, the conditions for a reduction in weekly working hours are negotiated between the works council and company management. Larger companies often pay their employees a partial wage adjustment.

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