Czech unions push for shorter working week

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Czech trade unions want to push through a shorter, 37.5-hour working week, and cut the present working hours by half an hour a day without lowering salaries, the daily Lidové noviny reported on Monday.

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“People would work 7.5 hours a day and have a 30-minute break,” the head of the umbrella organization of Czech unions, the Czech Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions, Josef Středula, told the daily.

At the moment, the standard working week is 42.5 hours a week, including a 30-minute break every day. If working hours were shortened by 30 minutes a day, Czech employees would have 130 extra hours of free time each year.

According to Lidové noviny, the unions are in a very good negotiating position, since the unemployment rate in the Czech Republic is the lowest in the European Union and firms lack employees.

Union chairman Středula plans to officially present the demand for a shorter working week at the confederation’s meeting in late April. He said he believes the change could be introduced within a few years’ time.

The head of the KOVO trade union, Jaroslav Souček, told the daily he expects to start pushing this demand through next year.

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš told the paper that shortening working hours is not an issue on the table now, but he didn’t rule it out in future.

“Our productivity is still low. It is in fact impossible to shorten working hours now, but in a longer-term horizon this may be done,” Mr Babiš said.

According to the head of the Czech Chamber of Commerce, Vladimír Dlouhý, the Chamber is very much against raising the minimum wage, but a shorter working week does not seem to be a big problem.

However, he also warned that reducing working hours could negatively influence productivity of labour.

In putting forward the proposal Czech unions were inspired by France and Germany, where the working week has already been shortened.

According to the latest OECD data, Czech employees worked on average 1,770 hours in 2016, while German employees worked only 1,363 hours.