End of the line for the short working week?

Jul 20 2004 by Brian Amble Print This Article

It was a simple choice for the 820 workers at Bosch's Vénissieux components plant near Lyon in France. Work longer than the statutory 35 hours a week, or see your jobs go to the Czech Republic.

But, as the Financial Times points out today, French politicians – as well as their German counterparts - still seem to have difficulty accepting the simple fact that employers will vote with their feet unless they reform their labour markets.

Meanwhile in Germany, with some of the highest unemployment and lowest growth figures in Europe, workers at two Siemens factories were told bluntly to extend their working week from 35 to 40 hours or face losing their jobs to Hungary – something that French finance minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, described last week as "a form of extortion that would be unthinkable over here".

Many other large companies in Germany are seeking longer working hours to boost their competitiveness, include MAN, Linde, Bosch and Opel.

At car giant DaimlerChrysler, attempts to get workers to work longer for the same or even less money have resulted in strike action after the company threatened to send 6,000 jobs to South Africa if costs were not cut. The company's board have said that they will cut their own salaries by some 10 per cent if employees agree to work longer.

According to the Daily Telegraph, ordinary Germans are beginning to accept the need for change even if their politicians have not.

But yesterday the results of a poll by Forsa indicated that the majority of Germans - 53pc - believed that the workers should be willing to sacrifice certain privileges, such as a five-minute toilet break every hour, popularly known as a "stone cooler".

The poll indicated that German public opinion is coming round to the idea that it needs to work longer hours if Germany is to retain its competitiveness.

How long, we wonder, before Europe's politician's receive the same blindingly obvious insights?