From Germany, A Call To Save The Eight-Hour Work Day

Conventional business wisdom now calls for employee "flexibility." But too often that leads to work and rest becoming so intermingled that a hard-earned freedom gets lost.

Wheels of work turning in Berlin
Wheels of work turning in Berlin
Alexander Hagelüken


MUNICH â€" The way Germans work has slowly been changing over the last few years. Traditionally, employees have had to be in the office during very specific working hours, keeping on and off-the-job time quite distinct.

But with advances in information technology that connect people to their offices, some employees sought to work from home more often to spend more time with their children.

But at the same time, it has become an integral part of modern workplace demands that the employee is available outside normal office working hours. Thus it becomes part of his/her remit now to finish that presentation while sitting in the living room in the evening, to respond to a boss' email, or be available to clients via mobile phone during the weekend.

Sometimes it will be the employer that demands these extra working hours from the employee; other times it is the employee who starts out asking to work from home. But ultimately, this particular mix of employer-demanded and self-imposed extra working hours can lead to a whole new kind of strain on the employee.

Germany's Employer’s Association is going one step further now. They want to abolish the eight-hour working day, which has long been used as a benchmark as to how long an employee can be expected to work. Business leaders insist that they do not want staff to work any longer than eight hours a day, but rather create more flexibility in view of changing lifestyles and growing global competition.

Blurring lines

But the question remains as to what that will mean for employees in Germany, where the boundaries between work and rest are becoming increasingly blurred. Some 16 % of Germans complain about the fact that their gainful employment is increasingly leading to an overlapping of work and time spent with family.

Long and constantly shifting working hours are regarded as being the main cause of psychological strain in the workplace. More work and more flexibility obviously leave their mark.

But employers are in the right when they object to their employees’ concerns of increased working hours. On average, Germans actually work fewer hours now than they did in the past. Entire sectors of the economy, such as the automotive industry, have been heavily regulated by trade unions to protect employees, so that no one works longer than the collective wage agreement states and that no one will have to deal with work-related emails on their smartphone after leaving the workplace.

Modern office life. Photo: Lars Ploughmann

But the threat of blurring the boundaries between work and rest is most in evidence where trade unions have very little influence. This is the case where employees with few qualifications work for a company without a collective wage agreement and do not have any power to negotiate better contracts. The same applies to workers in the so-called "knowledge economy" who people the desks in many an office. The share of men who regularly work more than nine hours a day has doubled in the last 20 years.

The legally regulated eight-hour working day is a very powerful symbol. The labor movement demanded its introduction, which eventually began to spread early last century. The government should not get rid of this important standard, but defend it to prevent an insidious spread of work-related stress.

It would be in the interest of the employee if collective wage agreements were to limit the amount of time that an employee can work, and specifically address how availability after hours via computer and smartphones should be handled. Where such protections are not granted, the government should step in to officially regulate such issues. The digital age has turned working life upside down, creating new dangers for employees that require new means for protecting them.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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