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Police officers in Dresden

Photo: Robert Michael/ DPA

Several trade unions have called for a reduction in working hours in the public sector and reliable overtime compensation. Police union representatives are also campaigning for this. Specifically, the experts are calling for the 20-hour week for civil servants, which was introduced 41 years ago, to finally be reduced to the usual 38.5 hours. This emerges from previously published written statements for an expert hearing in the Finance Committee of the Düsseldorf state parliament next Tuesday.

The reason for the statements is a motion by the FDP opposition. It calls for the high mountains of overtime in the public sector to be protected from decay. For this purpose, long-term work accounts would have to be introduced in all departments, to which all overtime would be transferred, according to the motion of the parliamentary group. No overtime due to overtime ordered by the authorities should be lost without compensation.

Last year, the previous coalition between the CDU and the FDP created the legal instruments for long-term work accounts. However, they are still the exception, the FDP noted. In addition, the forfeiture protection for overtime, which was previously granted by decree, will soon expire – so far without a succession plan.

Police: More than five million overtime hours

The trade unions criticised the fact that the limit set by the previous government to a maximum of 122 transferable overtime hours per year was impractical and insufficient. The North Rhine-Westphalian Association of the German Police Union (DPolG) spoke of a mountain of more than five million overtime hours in the police alone.

Several trade unions cite the Hessian model of a lifetime working time account, which was introduced in 2007, as exemplary. This means that civil servants automatically save one hour per week until they reach the age of 60, but initially continue to work 41 hours per week. The saved time credit can also be used for an earlier retirement.

Such a solution is missing from the stakeholders in NRW. The police union (GdP) would also like to transfer the many legally unclear on-call hours to the long-term accounts.

Workload deters job applicants

However, the German tax union raised the question of how the country would deal with it if the entitlements from the long-term work accounts were to be reduced at some point. Ultimately, the employer takes out a time loan from his employees "without knowing how he will repay it if the number of employees falls and the workload remains the same".

In fact, even 44 hours a week are "the rule rather than the exception" for civil servants, the German Trade Union Confederation noted. This is not the way to solve the shortage of skilled workers. The GdP also warned that a 41-hour week in combination with shift and overtime work repeatedly leads to applicants "regularly choosing a career in other areas".

In view of the tight staffing, an end to the overtime misery is not in sight, the FDP noted. "The current volume of overtime and ordered overtime is equivalent to thousands of full-time positions." The data from the state government showed that the number of vacancies in the state service had stabilized at more than 20,000. Currently, there is a shortage of around 17,000 civil servants and more than 4000,<> employees covered by collective bargaining agreements.