German coalition partners clash on work-life balance

Fri Jan 10, 2014 8:18am EST
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By Stephen Brown

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's new Social Democrat (SPD) family minister has angered Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives with a proposal to cut the working week for parents of small children to 32 hours while guaranteeing them no cut in pay.

"It's always been tough to balance work and family life but we must make it easier for families in Germany," the minister, Manuela Schwesig, told German TV on Friday. "Parents shouldn't be disadvantaged at work and politicians have to lead the way."

She wants the legal definition of full-time work for mothers and fathers of children under three to be reduced from 40 hours a week, meaning they would keep the same pay as if they were working eight hours a day, five days a week.

But politicians from Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), who launched a "grand coalition" government with the SPD last month, called the SPD proposal "crazy" and said it would be a burden on taxpayers and the economy.

"I'd like to know where the money would come from," asked senior CDU lawmaker Michael Fuchs.

Joachim Pfeiffer, a conservative economics spokesman in the Bundestag, said work and family life should be more compatible but forcing firms to pay part-time workers the full sum "would be an attack on the competitiveness of the German economy".

Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert dismissed Schwesig's idea diplomatically, saying the coalition had already agreed to help working parents by boosting child benefit payments and providing more kindergarten places. There would be "no extra tax money" for what he described as the SPD minister's personal vision.

Industry is already worried about the government's plans to introduce a minimum wage, restrict temporary work contracts and lower the retirement age for certain categories of workers.   Continued...

German Chancellor Angela Merkel stands with the aid of crutches as she meets carols singers (Sternsinger) during a reception at the Chancellery in Berlin, January 7, 2014. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz