The beginning of this year brings the debate on the reduction of working time back on the table. It had been opened by labour minister Georges Engel (LSAP), who in February 2022 said he was in favour of it, before launching a study to collect data for a discussion on the subject. But in his New Year’s speech, prime minister Xavier Bettel (DP) spoke out against it, preferring to talk about flexibilisation and a decision to be taken on a case-by-case basis, a position supported by the president of his party, Lex Delles (DP), during his New Year’s address.
“It is like asking a mouse to negotiate with a cat,” reacted former labour minister, Dan Kersch (LSAP), in a carte blanche to the Wort.
“Working fewer hours” is also one of the demands of the Chamber of Employees (CSL), as stated by its president Nora Back, who is also the president of the OGBL. This is opposed by employers, who point to the lack of manpower and the cost of the measure.
Different results for different methodologies
In Luxembourg, the ‘normal’ working time is 40 hours per week. It can vary through sectoral agreements, work organisation plans (POT) or flexible working hours. This is more than in France (35 hours) and Belgium (38 hours), but less than in Germany (48 hours).
But how much time is actually worked?
1,791 hours per year, according to the Eurofound’s 2020 figures quoted by Dan Kersch. This compares with 1,574 hours in Germany, 1,610 in France and 1,746 in Belgium. To arrive at this total, the institute first calculated the ‘real’ weekly working time, taking into account the sectoral specificities that may exist. That is 39.8 hours for Luxembourg. This figure was multiplied by 52 weeks, before subtracting paid annual leave (26 days) and public holidays (9).
However, public holidays falling on Sundays are not deducted (although workers can reuse them). Neither are sick leave, parental leave, partial unemployment or part-time work. Eurofound does not include overtime in its calculations.
By integrating these elements into its own numbers, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reveals a result that is much lower but undoubtedly closer to reality: 1,382 hours in 2021 (and 1,420 in 2020). This makes Luxembourg the third country where people work the least, out of the 45 analysed.
Germany has less work time with 1,349 hours, but France (1,490 hours) and Belgium (1,493 hours) are above, as are the 27 members of the European Union (EU) on average (1,566 hours).
37,030,400 hours of sick or accident leave in 2021
However, the OECD warns that it is difficult to compare countries because not all countries have collected their own data in the same way. In the case of Luxembourg, the data comes from the Inspectorate General of Social Security (IGSS). The IGSS collects the data directly from companies, which declare the hours worked by their employees to the Centre commun de la sécurité sociale (CCSS) on a monthly basis.
For this reason, the details of the hours ‘not worked’ (compared to what would have been the case after a classic multiplication of the number of weeks by the legal weekly duration), due to part-time work or parental leave, cannot be calculated.
On the other hand, the IGSS counts 37,030,400 hours ‘not worked’ over the whole year 2021 in the private sector, due to illness or accident. Across all sectors, 5,028,200 hours were ‘missed’ due to maternity leave, 2,412,800 for family-related leave (2021 was still marked by covid), 2,266,200 for exemptions from work (e.g., exclusion from certain working hours for pregnant women), 5,100 for hospitality leave and 15,221,100 due to short-time working (still in the covid period). Conversely, 11,409,200 hours of overtime were declared, although not all of them were and this is still an estimate.
Working hours down
In any case, the data allows Statec to note a decrease in working time over the years and to ascribe it to “shorter working days” and “the increase in the number of days of leave,” linked to the country’s legal framework.
For example, the family ministry counted 11,636 beneficiaries of parental leave on 31 December 2021, compared with 10,886 a year earlier and 4,025 in 2012, as the scheme has been promoted and enhanced since then.
Statec also notes that “the proportion of part-time employees” has tripled in 40 years, reaching 18.1% of residents aged 15 to 64 in 2021. Cross-border commuters are excluded from this calculation.
Will there be a further reduction? The debate seems to be open, but it will have to take into account other factors, including the balance between private and professional life and the attraction of talent.
In the meantime, some companies have already taken the plunge, such as RH Expert, which has adopted a four-day week with a maximum of nine hours per day. DG Group has opted for flexible working hours.
This story was first published in French on Paperjam. It has been translated and edited for Delano.