Petition adds fuel to working hours debate

With people becoming used to working from home during the pandemic, a reduction of working hours is now high on the public agenda Photo: EU

With people becoming used to working from home during the pandemic, a reduction of working hours is now high on the public agenda Photo: EU

With a debate on reducing working hours in Luxembourg already ongoing, a public petition is set to add more fuel to the discussion.

Labour minister Georges Engel in April said that he wants to commission a study to analyse the feasibility and different options to reduce working hours in Luxembourg as part of better work-life balance.

Most full-time contracts in Luxembourg are for a 40-hour workweek although exceptions apply in some sectors, such as healthcare. A petition wants to reduce this number to 35, scraping off one hour from each working day.

“Luxembourg is one of the European Union countries with the longest working week,” the document says. “The reduction in working hours would allow an increase in the hourly productivity of employees and an increase in the feeling of general well-being.”

Among Luxembourg’s neighbours, Germany also has a 40-hour week, while France has a 35-hour week. In Belgium 38 hours are common although up to 40 are also possible. The country is trialling condensing 38 hours into four days, but Engel in an interview with Delano published in May said he does not consider this “social progress” as it makes people’s workdays even longer.

The UK in January on the other hand began a pilot programme of a four-day working week, with employees receiving the same salary for fewer hours. A similar programme in Iceland began in 2019. Sweden, too, has trialled a six-hour working day.

Employer groups have already sounded the alarm bells over the idea, warning that there is already a shortage of labour, which would be exacerbated by people working fewer hours.

In the wake of the pandemic, in which companies were forced to adopt more flexible work arrangements, the discussion about improving work-life balance doesn’t look like it’s going away soon.

At the time of writing and just hours after the petition was published online, more than 550 people had already pledged their signature calling for a shorter workweek. If the document collects at least 4,500 signatures in the coming six weeks, it will need to be debated in parliament and with the government.

With elections coming up in October 2023, the topic is likely to feature on the agendas of policymakers.