Why the 42-hour week is not a solution

Protest against the extension of working hours

During traffic light coalition negotiations last fall, trade unionists warned of changes in working hours.

(Photo: imago images/Mike Schmidt)

In Douglas Adams’ science fiction novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the answer to the question of the ultimate meaning of life is remarkably simple. It is simply “42” – no more and no less.

Industry President Siegfried Russwurm has now found the answer to one of the greatest challenges for Germany in the coming years. In the fight against the shortage of skilled workers, he brought the 42-hour week into play.

His explanation sounds simple. Since a longer working life is unrealistic with the traffic light coalition of SPD, Greens and FDP, it should now set a longer working week. Optional and with full wage compensation. Sootworm analysis is correct.

Germany is heading towards an economy without people. The Americans speak of the “big quit” when employees at airports, in restaurants or in nursing homes go out.

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Whereas in previous discussions there was talk of a lack of skilled workers, the shortage is now affecting entire sectors. According to the Institute for Labor Market and Vocational Research, there is currently a shortage of 1.74 million workers. That is a new record.

Work-life balance

In the new world of work, however, the push for a 42-hour week seems outdated. The German economy is in a process in which people are not only motivated by more money for more work.

Employees don’t want to go back to 1956, when the unions demanded a 40-hour, five-day work week with the slogan “Saturdays belong to Dad”. Today, the competition for the best employees is about purpose, flexibility, working from home and, of course, the compatibility of family and career.

>>Read also: Labor shortages are getting worse – are immigration and better working conditions the solution?

Politicians and the economy are therefore more challenged than before. The bureaucracy in Germany is still working countless hours of overtime. A legion of workers could be getting off work sooner if they weren’t wasting their time battling the authorities.

Recruiting skilled workers from abroad also works rather badly than well. Not much is left of the announced law on the immigration of skilled workers. In the end, however, industry must also put up with the question of why it does not train more young people than the skilled trades and medium-sized companies.

All of these are the big questions of the modern working world. The 42-hour week can at best be a partial answer to the acute shortage of skilled workers.

More: The beautiful dream of the four-day week – and why it bursts in reality in Germany

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