BERLIN (Reuters) – An initiative from Germany’s Social Democrat labour minister to give people the right to work from home is facing opposition from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and business groups, though a survey shows most workers like the idea.
The coronavirus pandemic has interrupted work flows in many companies in Europe’s largest economy, accelerating a trend to work partly from home and speeding up the digitisation of business organisation and communication.
But it has also created new problems such as working longer hours without getting credit for it and pushing up stress levels, especially among parents juggling childcare and working from home.
Hubertus Heil from the co-governing, centre-left SPD told Deutschlandfunk radio on Monday that his draft law would give employees the right to work from home or somewhere else at least 24 days per year if the profession and work flows allow.
With the draft law, Heil wants to increase job satisfaction among employees and avoid home working automatically leading to longer working hours.
So employers must ensure that employees record their entire working time at home, or else face a fine of up to 30,000 euros.
In addition, accidents that happen while working from home should be regarded as work accidents which means the employer’s insurance must fully cover the costs.
A survey conducted by several economic institutes showed that roughly two thirds of German employees welcome the proposal for such a legal right.
But a spokeswoman of Economy Minister Peter Altmaier from Merkel’s conservatives said during a regular news conference that there were many unanswered questions and that Altmaier remained sceptical of the idea.
“Above all, we need less bureaucracy and not new state guarantees for everything,” the spokeswoman cited Altmaier as saying.
Merkel’s spokesman said the draft law would now be discussed between the labour ministry and the chancellery, adding that there were still a lot of issues to be resolved.
The VDMA engineering association said there was no need for a legal right to work from home.
“It only raises hopes that cannot be fulfilled in every case,” VDMA managing director Thilo Brodtmann said.
(Reporting by Michael Nienaber, Editing by Ed Osmond)