BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany’s largest trade union, IG Metall, on Saturday proposed negotiating for a move to a four-day week to help secure jobs against economic fallout from the coronavirus crisis and structural shifts in the automobile industry.
IG Metall, which represents 2.3 million employees in the metal working and electrical sectors, often makes demands that set benchmarks for wage negotiations in those industries and beyond.
“The four-day week... could make it possible to keep industrial jobs instead of scrapping them,” its leader Joerg Hofman told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily.
The coronavirus crisis has put some 300,000 jobs at risk in Germany’s metal and electrical industry, an IG Metall board member said last month.
The gradual switch to electric cars also threatens tens of thousands of engine and gearbox manufacturing jobs in Germany.
Hofman said that, if companies agreed to cut working time, employees should not necessarily see their salary cut by the same amount or they would not be able to afford to work fewer hours.
He said companies had an interest in cutting hours rather than laying off staff, as this would allow them to retain skilled workers and save redundancy costs.
Hofman also called on the government to extend short-time working benefits that have helped cushion the blow of the pandemic to 24 months from a current maximum of 21 months.
Short-time work is a form of state aid that allows employers to switch employees to shorter working hours during an economic downturn to keep them on the payroll.
About 5.6 million Germans currently benefit from the scheme, according to the Ifo research institute.
After a series of strikes, the IG Metall union agreed a deal in 2018 to allow staff to cut their working week to 28 hours for up to two years to care for children or other relatives.
Reporting by Emma Thomasson; editing by John Stonestreet
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