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‘Lazy’ Germans ‘must work harder’ as Eurozone’s biggest economy in turmoil

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Germany, renowned for its robust work ethic, is grappling with an alarming shift in its workplace culture that could be contributing to the nation’s sluggish economic growth.

The tabloid Bild recently raised a provocative question: “Have we forgotten how to work hard?”

This comes after the US news agency Bloomberg reported that Germans ranked at the bottom of the OECD group of industrial states for the average hours worked.

The concern over Germany’s perceived decline in work ethic is echoed by Christian Lindner, the German finance minister, who lamented that the French, Italians, and other nationalities now work “a lot more than we do”.

Lindner’s comments were made in response to OECD statistics showing that Germans worked an average of 1,341 hours in 2022, significantly below the EU average of 1,571 hours and the UK’s 1,532 hours. In contrast, Colombia topped the list with 2,405 hours per year. Germany’s generous leave policies also contribute to this gap, with Germans enjoying an average of 30 days’ annual leave.

Adding to these concerns, the average number of sick days in Germany has increased to a record 15.2 in 2023, up from 10.8 in 2000, according to the online database Statista. Such trends are raising questions about productivity and the potential impact on Europe’s largest economy.

During a speech in Washington at the International Monetary Fund’s spring meeting, Lindner called for reforms to address these issues. He suggested that cuts to Germany’s extensive red tape, along with other changes, could trigger an “economic turnaround” and ease the burden on public finances.

“When people work or work more, they end up paying higher taxes and social security contributions and receive fewer social transfers,” he said.

A portion of the problem lies with Germany’s labour structure. An estimated 10 percent of the German workforce has a 35-hour week enshrined in their contract, following agreements with trade unions in various industries, most notably metalworking and engineering.

Claus Weselsky, a union leader for German train drivers, championed a recent reduction to a 35-hour week after a series of strikes, describing it as an example for other trade unions.

The International Monetary Fund predicts that Germany’s economy will be the slowest-growing of all G7 nations this year, with a forecasted 0.2 percent growth in 2024 due to factors like ageing, underinvestment, and excessive bureaucracy.

Another aspect of the labor issue involves the slow process of recognising foreign qualifications. German Labour Minister Hubertus Heil pointed out that only one in five of the 750,000 Ukrainian refugees of working age in the country has a job, compared to 61 percent in the UK and 65 percent in Poland. Heil attributed this to the “lame-arsed” process of recognising foreign qualifications in Germany and called for changes in the laws.

The current economic and labour challenges facing Germany are reminiscent of the early 1990s when then-chancellor Helmut Kohl warned of a risk of Germany becoming a “collective leisure park.”

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