Demands to reduce working time have been part of the core trade union struggles since the beginning of our movement. The historic victory of the 5-day week is the best example. Today, working time policies and reductions have become essential tools to achieve a Just Transition for workers affected by the green and digital twin transitions.
Tackling the impact of the twin transition
The green and digital twin transitions will have a huge impact on workers in industry. More than 25 million workers in Europe's manufacturing, mining and energy sectors will be affected by the changes as jobs change or disappear, new ones are created and the quality of jobs is affected. These workers need solutions that they can accept and see as fair. Piecemeal and short-term solutions will fail - the sheer scale and rapid pace of the twin transformation require a strong legal framework to ensure just transitions. In this context, the early involvement of workers and their unions in decisions about their future through information and consultation, collective bargaining and training rights is fundamental.
Diverse approaches to working time reduction
Working time reduction plays a key role in anticipating and managing the impact of the dual transition on workers' occupations and employment security. Although the '4-day week' has grabbed the headlines, it is only one possible scenario of working time reduction. A one-size-fits-all solution is not possible for the complex reality of the manufacturing sector, where shift work requires a different approach. Unions have negotiated several other options to find the best fit for each sector and company. Examples range from early retirement schemes to general reductions in weekly working hours, extended individual choice between wage increases and working time reductions, or working time reductions combined with training rights. The ETUI's latest study on working time provides a more in-depth analysis of different working time reduction options, such as the 2018 agreement in the German metal and electronics industry. This agreement allows employees to reduce their working hours, with proportional wage compensation options, providing a framework for implementing a four-day week without explicitly naming it.
Combining Working Time Reduction and Training Rights
Reduced working time is part of the solution to overcome the current massive skills shortages in European industry, both for employment security and to meet the huge training challenges. IndustriAll Europe’s recent position on training provides a deeper analysis of this issue, as the challenge is complex and daunting. The changes in automotive manufacturing are indicative of what European industry faces in terms of the training challenge posed by the green and digital transition: the emergence of entirely new job profiles and the need to massively scale up training programmes to meet growing demand. According to the European Battery Alliance, 800,000 workers will need to be retrained to meet the EU's battery ambitions, while BCG research for the European Electromobility Platform estimates that 2.4 million automotive workers will need to be retrained by 2030.
Skills shortages could prove to be the Achilles' heel of the green transition unless policymakers and employers take responsibility and move beyond rhetoric on training and skills to concrete action. This is where working time comes into play. Combined with training rights, working time reduction is part of the solution to Europe's training, reskilling and upskilling challenge. Our factsheet provides a reader-friendly overview of how working time can be an effective tool to manage the dual transition and enable training to ensure just transitions.
Case Study: Sweden's Innovative Agreements
A good example of this comes from Sweden, where two groundbreaking collective agreements have been transposed into law to strengthen support for job-to-job transitions and lifelong learning. A transitional study grant and a new collectively agreed financial study grant give individuals the right to financial support for both shorter and longer courses to develop their skills, both during employment and between jobs. This will have important job security benefits for workers by increasing their opportunities to upskill or retrain. It will also benefit companies in terms of a more productive and skilled workforce.
Isabelle Barthès, Acting Joint General Secretary of industriAll Europe, said:
“Working time, and in particular working time reduction schemes negotiated with workers and their trade unions, are key to making Just Transition a reality in Europe.
“The Swedish example shows the added value of a well-functioning social partnership. Where trade unions and employers work together constructively, they manage to find a win-win solution for all and to secure individual rights in a collective way. We need more examples of such frameworks for fair job-to-job transitions and lifelong learning to ensure a just dual transition across Europe.”
Study: The European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) has published a study by Dr. Torsten Müller, which analyses working time trends in the manufacturing sectors in Europe, focusing particularly on the reality in the workplaces of industriAll Europe’s affiliates. The study is based on the most recent academic literature, as well as on reports by industriAll Europe affiliates.