Lazy, gas-guzzling: Is this Germany? |

Lazy, gas-guzzling: Is this Germany?


BERLIN (AP) – ”Work, work, build your home,” goes a saying that symbolizes the virtues of German industriousness. But a new study shows the myth is fading: Germans last year spent less time on the job than ever before.

The government survey, released Thursday, also dents Germany’s image of itself as an ecology-minded nation, finding that commuters increasingly drive to work instead of using the nation’s dense public transport network.

To be sure, Germany remains Europe’s economic powerhouse despite signs of a declining work ethic. But politicians and commentators have been fretting that prosperity is breeding too much of a ”fun society.”

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder recently told his compatriots they have ”no right to laziness” when he said unemployed Germans should be denied benefits if they continuously refuse job offers.

In a country where labor unions wield much power, lunch breaks are sacred and laws tell stores when to open and close, the average employee’s workweek fell to an all-time low in 2000 – both in economically depressed former communist East Germany and in the richer west.

The typical workweek was 36.7 hours in the west and 38.7 hours in the east, said a government census of 800,000 households across Germany. That compares with 37.9 hours in the west and 40 hours in the east in 1991, the first full year after Germany reunited.

Only Belgian, Dutch and Danish employees worked fewer hours on average, according to 1999 data from the 15 European Union countries cited in the report released Thursday.

Germany’s steadily declining working hours in both parts of the country, seem even more remarkable since the number of people looking for work rose significantly during the decade.

Some 3.7 million Germans were jobless in mid-2000, compared to 2.6 million in 1991, the study said.

Even in Germany, the cozy traditional workweek is breaking down as employees increasingly work night, weekend or holiday shifts. Nearly 51 percent of employees regularly had such ”flexible working hours” last year, up sharply from 42 percent in 1991, the survey said.

As Germany ages, a growing number of people no longer work at all. Last year, 22 percent of the population was living off retirement benefits compared to 19 percent in 1991, a trend that has the government scrambling to reform social security programs.

But when Germans do work, they increasingly shun public transport to get there – despite its reputation as a clean, safe and convenient way to travel.

Germans will religiously recycle bottles and worry about global warming, but their love of cars is winning out at least among commuters: 64 percent said they get to work by car, up noticeably from 60 percent in 1996.

”Even for inner-city short trips of less than six miles, 45 percent of commuters plumped for their car,” the study complained.

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