In an interview with the FT, German Labor Minister Hubertus Heil, a Social Democrat MP and author of a bill granting new legal rights to workers who wish to work from home permanently, said that his bill would be published in a few weeks, marking an important step on its way to becoming a law.
The law would be a landmark piece of legislation as Germany would become the first major European economy to give employees 'the right to work from home.’
Heil insisted that the still-unpublished law would find other ways to to reinforce workers rights and set clearer boundaries for lives that no longer have the traditional separation between "home" and "office." It also aims to offset some of the negative impact on collective bargaining and labor organizing.
"We cannot stop the changes in the world of work, nor do we want to," he said. "The question is how we can turn technological progress, new business models and higher productivity into progress not only for a few, but for many people. How do we turn technological progress into social progress?"
Germany isn't the only European country grappling with these issues. However, other countries have mostly relied on existing laws. France is relying on a 2017 law that limits work-related calls and emails after work hours.
If it passes, the law would be part of a "wider rethink" on Germany's stolid economy prompted by the virus. Once seen as opposed to "flexible" work schedules, Germans have embraced WFH en masse since the start of the pandemic, and they've found that they actually rather quite enjoy it.
The virus has also forced Berlin to abandon its longstanding tradition of passing only balanced budgets - the "black zero", as the rule is known. Meanwhile, Germany expanded the Kurzarbeit, its short-term unemployment insurance scheme, to help support workers in industries that have been shuttered by the virus.
A WFH law was first announced back in June, and it's still unclear whether it will find support among Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats - the CDU - as many small business owners complain that the legislation is unnecessary.
Ingo Kramer, the president of the German Employers’ Association, has called the proposals "utter nonsense" and warned they would encourage German companies to outsource jobs to cheaper workers abroad.
However, even the law's backers concede that there are certain gender disparities that the law can't address.
"There is the cliché, which is unfortunately often true, that men go into their home office and close the door while women working from home are simultaneously taking care of children," he said.
If nothing else, the draft proposal is simply the latest example of how the virus has pushed Germany's famously tight-fisted government to embrace more spending on the social safety net. But is this all a ruse to further strengthen the power of Germany's unions by strengthening collective bargaining rights?
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