European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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28 March 2018

Working less for the same pay: Czech unions demand it, employers are not against it.

working time

Czech workers want to work less, but for the same wage. The Czech union CMKOS wants to put forward a demand for a collective working time reduction to 7.5 hours a day with a 30-minute break. According to them, this would mean a reduction of the working time by half an hour a day or 2.5 hours a week.

Josef Stredula, the CMKOS leader, is optimistic about the potential for the working time reduction and said it could be accomplished within a few years: Czech workers work unnecessary long hours. Every 4 years Czechs work one extra German working year. We believe working time reduction by half an hour a day is possible. This is very connected to the digitalisation. Employers simply need to get ready and innovate.”

The reactions of the government and employers indicate they are open to persuasion.  While the Prime minister stated that a reduction of working time is currently not on the agenda, he didn’t rule out possible reductions for the future.

The same goes for the representatives of the employers and the industry. Provided that a working time reduction doesn’t negatively affect productivity, they seem open for a discussion.

Figures published in the recent ETUI guide ‘the why and how of working time reduction’ show that the conventional working time in Czechia is equal to the EU 28 average (38.1 hours a week). However, the average Czech works about 40.7 hours a week and Czechia is also the with one of the highest proportion of workers working over 41 hours a week (37%, second only to Greece’s 43%).

The Czech CMKOS demand might be another signal that working time is returning as a topic for trade unions and collective bargaining. In February of this year, the German IG-Metall equally put the topic on the bargaining table and obtained the right for employees to reduce their working time by 20% for two years. While the German system comes with a proportional (but temporary) reduction in the salary, the Czech aim to keep the wages stable.

These different shapes of recent working time reduction proposals mirror their diverging objectives. While the German agreement is focused on improving work-life balance, CMKOS wants to avoid mass unemployment as an effect of the digitalization and robotization. Particularly employment in the important car manufacturing sector in Czechia will be affected by these upcoming changes.

It also seems no coincidence that working time demands surface in these countries. Both Germany and Czechia are enjoying very low levels of unemployment (Benchmarking Working Europe 2018, page 23), putting labour in a more comfortable position to push its demands.

More on working time reduction? Read the why and how of working time reduction’

More on the Czech proposal? Read ‘Czech trade unions want shorter working week

More on the IG metal working time agreement? Read 28-hour week gains momentum in German unions’ push for flexible rights’.

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