NEWS

Big industries push employees to work longer hours without an increase in pay

Every worker in Europe is haunted by the fear of unemployment, with working hours steadily on the rise. Already in France, the government of Jean-Pierre Raffarin has announced measures abolishing the 35-hour workweek and returning to 40 hours, though not without extremely vocal dissent which may make its way to the European Parliament, where the bill may be overturned. In Germany as well, the flexible and rather cheap 35-hour workweek of the past few years has been stretched to 40, though it remains equally flexible. The tactic used by employers has been aptly called «the terrorism of departure,» whereby large manufacturers have warned they would shut down their plants unless the workers backed down. The case of Germany In this way, the heart of the German working class, the metal workers, were forced by Daimler-Chrysler, Siemens and Volkswagen to increase their working hours from 35 to 40 a week without gaining any more pay. These actions even prompted German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to accuse the companies of being a «swarm of locusts,» a phrase that resonated with the Social Democratic Party’s Marxist past. It is true, nevertheless, that most developed countries in Europe still have far fewer working hours than those found in most other parts of the world because of a string of historical events marked by the vigorous presence of labor movements. And most countries in Europe are still showing a long-term downtrend in hours worked. According to data released by the OECD, France has experienced a 14 percent reduction of working hours since the early 1990s and Germany a 17 percent reduction over the same period. In the United States, on the other hand, hours have fallen by a mere 1.4 percent over the past decade or so. Figures for 2003 show that the French worked a total of 1,560 hours during the year, the Danes 1,658 hours and the Germans 1,666. US similar to Pakistan The average for the 15 older member states of the European Union was 1,760 hours over the year. In contrast, in the US, annual working hours exceed 2,100, levels that approximate those in developing areas, such as Karachi in Pakistan and Manila in the Philippines, where annual hours worked range between 2,200-2,300. Maybe this explains why the United States is seeing the opposite trend emerging: a demand for a shorter workweek. Many of the unions in America’s labor movement (AFL-CIO) are pushing for fewer working hours, while there is also a movement against working overtime whose slogan is «Win back your free time.» Their claim notes that American workers suffer from too much work and a lack of free time, while their health, families and communities are also under threat because of overwork.