German workers won a key victory in their fight for a better work-life balance when a big employers’ group agreed to demands from the country’s largest trade union for the introduction of a 28-hour working week.
The agreement between IG Metall, which represents a swath of industrial workers, and the Südwestmetall employers’ federation, shows how unions in Germany that for years have been models of wage restraint are flexing their muscles in ways more typical of organised labour in France, home of the 35-hour working week.
It also comes as Germany is in the midst of its longest postwar stretch without a government. Angela Merkel is struggling through a fifth month of coalition negotiations that have raised questions over whether a country that once lectured Europe on economic and political stability is losing its way.
The labour deal is a product of a boom that has given unions an unusually strong hand in collective bargaining. The economy last year grew at its fastest rate since 2011 and unemployment is at its lowest since reunification in 1990.
Stefan Wolf, Südwestmetall’s chief negotiator , warned the deal was a “burden, which will be hard to bear for many firms”.