CMV: The European Union should institute a maximum working week of 35-hours in all member states

Sat Jul 07 2018 15:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)


Nicholas Vrousalis

University of Leiden

Assistant Professor

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- A 35-hour working week is likely to be more efficient than an unrestricted, or a 40+, working week.
- It needs to be prescribed by law to because of the assurance problem: Suppose you were offered an extra week of vacation in return for a three percent drop in remuneration. Would you accept? Studies have shown that most people would accept, but only if others were also disposed to accept. So, law has a role to play: the well-being of all is increased by making a reduction in working time a general requirement.
- It is likely to be fairer: In general, long working hours are symptomatic of a separation between those who produce and those who manage those who produce. This is unfair and undemocratic: producing for a wage not only entails that someone else is telling you what to produce and how; it also entails that you are disenfranchised from the process of deciding what to produce and how. This separation can be abolished only if working people take control over their working lives. But control presupposes more time for collective self-government, that is, a reduction in the time you spend producing and a commensurate increase in the time you spend governing your workplace.
- It is likely to be freer: A 35-hour working week means more free time for most people, that is, time not spent trying to make ends meet. Free time, on this view, is an all-purpose-means: whatever your plan of life, free time is a necessary condition for fulfilling it. We won’t lead free lives when the wealthy buy all of our free time, even if we voluntarily sold off our fair share of that time.
- The proposal will fail unless coupled with an aggressive full employment policy at the EU level. By ‘aggressive’ I mean an EU policy that severely restricts layoffs, introduces obligatory hiring for profit-making firms, boosts EU-funded employment subsidies, and makes EU states employers of last resort. In the absence of such policies, profit-maximizing firms have an incentive either not to hire, or even to lay off workers, as the productivity gains of a shorter working week kick in. The absence of such policies largely explains the moribund state of the French 35-hour week.
- As of 2017, the average length of the working week in northern Europe has converged to 37 hours per week. Introducing a 35-hour week is therefore likely to be smoother here. This is not, however, the case in southern and eastern Europe. On average, Greeks work about 42 hours per week (2000 hours a year); the Poles and Portuguese work about 40 (1850 hours a year). This is, however, a boon for the proposal if and only if it is coupled with an aggressive full employment policy: a 12 percent reduction, say, in the working week for a 12 percent reduction in unemployment.

Background Information

  • Average working hours per week within the European Union vary from country to country. According to recent studies, weekly working time within the European Union has been gradually decreasing over the past years

  • Currently, a 48-hour working week is set as a maximum by EU-legislation. The maximum of working hours per week within European Union member states is limited by the Working Time Directive (2003/88/EC)

    • This directive sets limits to weekly working hours, which must not exceed 48 hours on average, including any overtime

  • With regards to lowering the maximum of working hours per week, member states are free to institute their own legislation. There are daily, weekly, monthly or annual limitations to the maximum number of hours workers should work in many states

  • Most notably, France in February 2000 had already adopted the 35-hour working week, lowering the weekly working hours by 4 hours from 39 hours previously  

Working time EU

Working time directive

Debate Summary

Sat July 07, 2018. 60 comments, 17 contributors (without the author)

The proposed action does not have the desired effects
• One commentator holds that installing a 35 h week would, for some people, lead to less days off (and thus to less free time): “Because of the hard cap on hours worked, someone who otherwise would have had the day off is now forced to come in just in case an extra hour of work is required. That extra hour could have gone to the person who was already there and might want the extra pay.”
See also: “I work in northern Canada where it’s very common for people to work seasonal jobs, which involve working long hours from May-October and then being unemployed for 6 months over the winter.

The proposed action would lead to undesirable side-effects
• One contributor sees issues with the practical organization of the workplace: “By making it mandatory, you would cause more problems.
o Police working on a case would then stop, handing it over to others, causing weaker investigations in finding criminals.
o Patients would be seeing multiple doctors for their days long sickness and each doctor would not have the details of the illness than one doctor who would see the patient from the start. (Its the justification for interns to works long shifts)”
o The government would be less able to handle any emergencies. So country X invades country Y on a weekend. The people who best know how to handle this already worked 35 hours this week and won't be able to give advice until Monday.
• Another contributor fears that the policy will have the side-effect of harming smaller businesses: “Mandating a maximum work week of 35 hours a week will basically criminalize your most ambitious populous, and it will almost certainly stiffle small, middle, and large businesses... while not hurting the mega corps, so you are kinda fucking the small guys and helping the already super successful.”

Conflict with other goals
• Question: “How would you respond to someone who sees their freedom curtailed by enforcing a 35h work week?”

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