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[greenyes] Leisure Time Differences Between US and Europe


July 7, 2004
Europe Reluctantly Deciding It Has Less Time for Time Off

RANKFURT, July 6 - For Michael Stahl, a technician at a cordless telephone
factory in the town of Bocholt, summer is usually a carefree season of long
evenings in his garden and even longer vacations. His toughest choice is
where to take his wife and three children on their annual camping trip:
Italy and Croatia are on this year's itinerary.

Two weeks ago, however, Mr. Stahl got a rude jolt, when his union signed a
contract with his employer, Siemens, to extend the workweek at the Bocholt
plant to 40 hours from 35. Weekly pay remains the same. The new contract
also scraps the annual bonuses every employee receives to help pay for
vacations and Christmas expenses.

"I'll have to make do with less," Mr. Stahl said with a sigh. "Of course,
the family will come off the worst."

After nearly 27 years at Siemens, Mr. Stahl, 42, feels he has no choice but
to put in the extra time. Like millions of his fellow citizens, he is
struggling to accept the stark new reality of life in a global economy:
Germans are having to work longer hours.

And not just Germans. The French, who in 2000 trimmed their workweek to 35
hours in hopes of generating more jobs, are now talking about lengthening it
again, worried that the shorter hours are hurting the economy. In Britain,
more than a fifth of the labor force, according to a 2002 study, works
longer than the European Union's mandated limit of 48 hours a week.

Europe's long siesta, it seems, has finally reached its limit - a victim of
chronic economic stagnation, deteriorating public finances and competition
from low-wage countries in the enlarged European Union and in Asia. Most
important, many Europeans now believe that shorter hours, once seen as a way
of spreading work among more people, have done little to ease unemployment.

"We have created a leisure society, while the Americans have created a work
society," said Klaus F. Zimmermann, the president of the German Institute
for Economic Research in Berlin. "But our model does not work anymore. We
are in the process of rethinking it."

From the 1970's until recently, Europe followed a philosophy of less is more
when it came to labor, with the result that Europeans work an average of 10
percent fewer hours a year than Americans. Germans, with the lightest
schedule, work about 18 percent fewer hours.

The job creation argument went hand in hand with the greater social premium
that Europeans place on leisure. In the land of the four o'clock rush hour
and the monthlong summer holiday, it does really seem, as the cliché goes,
that Europeans work to live, while Americans live to work.


Peter Anderson, President
4513 Vernon Blvd. Suite 15
Madison, WI 53705-4964
Ph: (608) 231-1100
Fax: (608) 233-0011
Cell: (608) 698-1314
eMail: anderson@no.address

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