BERLIN Jan 10 Germany's new Social Democrat
(SPD) family minister has angered Chancellor Angela Merkel's
conservatives with a proposal to cut the working week for
parents of small children to 32 hours while guaranteeing them no
cut in pay.
"It's always been tough to balance work and family life but
we must make it easier for families in Germany," the minister,
Manuela Schwesig, told German TV on Friday. "Parents shouldn't
be disadvantaged at work and politicians have to lead the way."
She wants the legal definition of full-time work for mothers
and fathers of children under three to be reduced from 40 hours
a week, meaning they would keep the same pay as if they were
working eight hours a day, five days a week.
But politicians from Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), who
launched a "grand coalition" government with the SPD last month,
called the SPD proposal "crazy" and said it would be a burden
on taxpayers and the economy.
"I'd like to know where the money would come from," asked
senior CDU lawmaker Michael Fuchs.
Joachim Pfeiffer, a conservative economics spokesman in the
Bundestag, said work and family life should be more compatible
but forcing firms to pay part-time workers the full whack "would
be an attack on the competitiveness of the German economy".
Industry is already worried about the government's plans to
introduce a minimum wage, restrict temporary work contracts and
lower the retirement age for certain categories of workers.
Top SPD politicians have led by example when it comes to
taking time for their families.
Party leader Sigmar Gabriel declined to stand against Merkel
in last year's election citing the need to spend time with his
baby daughter Marie. Now deputy chancellor and economy minister,
he has stuck to his routine of taking Wednesday afternoons off
to pick up Marie from the kindergarten.
Joerg Asmussen quit his high-profile job in Frankfurt on the
board of the European Central Bank last month to spend more time
with his family in Berlin, taking a less prominent post in the
SPD-run labour ministry.
Schwesig, who spends Wednesday afternoons with her son but
had to postpone the play-date to Thursday this week, argued that
her proposal would actually "benefit the economy if more people,
especially well-trained women, remain in the workforce because
they feel work and family are compatible".
Members of Merkel's conservatives have also signalled their
intention to reserve time for their families.
Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen has seven children and
has said she wants to "home commute" occasionally, though the
ambitious CDU politician has already found time to visit troops
in Afghanistan and begin profiling herself as a potential
successor to Merkel.
The chancellor's former chief of staff Ronald Pofalla has
been criticised for citing family reasons for his resignation
even as he was quietly lining up a high-paying job at German
rail operator Deutsche Bahn.
(Reporting by Stephen Brown; Editing by Noah Barkin)