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Reviving an Explosive Topic: Reducing Work Hours

by Astrid Fadler Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015 at 5:25 AM

In truth, the introduction of the eight-hour day, the free Saturday and the fifth vacation week (in Austria) did not cause economic crises. Reduced working hours means more distribution justice for the general public and more quality of life for workers.


Reduced working hours means more distribution justice for the general public and more quality of life for workers

Astrid Fadler, free journalist

[This article published in the Austrian blog Arbeit & Wirtschaft6/2014 is translated abridged from the German on the Internet, ]

Overtime is part of the daily routine for around one-third of all employees. Altogether 16 percent work more than 45 hours weekly, frequently in the evening at home and on weekends – often voluntarily and partly unpaid – out of a sense of duty, for careers or out of anxiety over their jobs.

Overtime is financially positive. However work satisfaction falls from two hours extra work per week – apart from leadership positions. After more than seven hours work, the danger of accident increases. The risk for problems like sleep-, digestion- and circulation-disturbances increases fourfold with 60 weekly hours or through weekend work.


Since time immemorial, entrepreneurs have interpreted the call for reduced working hours as a crackpot idea of completely unrealistic dreamers who endanger the well-being of the nation. However in truth, the introduction of the eight-hour day, the free Saturday and the fifth vacation week did not cause economic crises. The current situation is by no means as dismal as often propagated. “For years,” as DGB secretary Bernhard Achitz said, “businesspersons have taken more and more money from their businesses instead of investing in more jobs and healthier workplaces…”

Austria has survived the crisis comparatively well thanks to short-time work. “Empirical analyses show considerable employment effects of a reduction in working hou9rs,” Markus Marterbauer said in the journal WISO 2/2011. The productivity gains cohering inevitably with reduced working hours reduce the positive employment effects up to two-thirds. According to calculations of WIFO, a ten percent reduction of working hours creates an added employment of around four percent. Insofar as wage compensation without cuts in pay (only) occurs to the extent of increased productivity, this does not mean full wage compensation but the piece-labor costs remain constant. The competitiveness of businesses did not worsen.

Reduced working hours can only fully develop its employment-effects when evasion-possibilities in organizing working hours are trifling. The rise of part-time work, above all the intense flexibilization of working hours through the fiscal advantage of overtime and the increase of all-in-one contracts increased the evasion-possibilities for busine3sses since the 1970s…


32 percent of men and 41 percent of women would gladly work less even with salary losses. The option “more leisure time instead of higher wages” possible in some branches since 2013 was chosen by ten percent of employees in the electronics industry – across all age and income groups. In general, reducing working hours is always easier when the income level is high. Businesses are ready for negotiations on wage compensation without cuts in pay. Immaterial values like more time for the family have increasing importance for employees.

Possible measures:

• Reduction of (unpaid) overtime…

• Reduced working hours through collective bargaining for vocational groups where the need is high or the framing conditions are favorable (for example, the income is correspondingly high). This is true for older workers, in construction, nursing etc.

• Easier attainment of the sixth vacation week. The 25-year employment with a company necessary for that extra vacation week is rarely achieved with the greater fluctuation of employees. Women would profit especially.

• Extended training hours and further education improve chances on the labor market and could reduce life working hours.

• Innovative childcare models as a remedy against the gender gap. The present distribution of work (and income) between men and women is everything but fair. Women do the lion’s share (66 percent) of unpaid work while the relation is opposite with paid work. Here men are clearly ahead (61 percent). In Austria, there are hardly initiatives that aim at egalitarian distribution of paid and unpaid work between women and men, the sociologist Claudia Sorger criticizes. She points to Sweden where the reduction of working hours of both parents for a more just division of childcare is supported by a tax bonus.


• The efficiency of employees increases and the danger of accident declines through the actual reduction of working hours. Whoever works less lives healthier. Heavy smokers reduce their cigarette consumption [T. Ahn (2013). Reduction of working time. Does it lead to a healthier lifestyle? School of Economics. So gang University].

• Whoever works less has more time for the family, for (personality) development or for voluntary activity.

• In good economic conditions, trading leisure time for services has positive effects.

• Possible negative effects. Although the bulk of employees are satisfied with shorter working hours, some fell under stronger pressure through work concentration.

The last comprehensive reduction of working hours in Austria occurred from 1970 to 1975. Weekly working hours were cut from 45 to 40 hours; vacation time was raised to four weeks. In 1985 the fifth vacation week was introduced under social minister Dallinger. Described by the media and political opponents as a “wild social utopia” and “minister for threats and social unrest,” Dallinger was an engaged advocate of reduced working hours. He was convinced the 35-hour week would become reality in 1990. Since 1985, (life) working time was actually reduced by lowering the pension age. In individual branches, working hours was decreased by means of collective bargaining. Today a 38- or 38.5 hour week is common in many branches of industry and commerce… The possibility of “exchanging” wage increases for leisure time has existed in the electronics industry since 2013

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