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Labour law: parttime work in Germany

German Bundestag adopts act on the introduction of “bridge part-time” work
Bundestag Document 19/3452; Draft of an Act on the Further Development of the Law of Part-Time Work – Introduction of Bridge Part-Time Work

Background
On 18 October 2018, the German Bundestag adopted an Act on the Further Development of the Law of Part-Time Work, and established a legal entitlement to temporary part-time employment in connection with this.

The German Parliament was prompted to enact these arrangements for reasons of labour policy, equality policy, and family policy. The intention is to enable employees to decide freely whether, following a period of part-time employment, they would like to resume working full time. Under the current arrangements in the German Part-Time and Temporary Employment Act (Teilzeit- und Befristungsgesetz, TzBfG), employees are not able to do so. While they are entitled to switch to part-time employment, they are not entitled to switch back to full-time employment. Under current law, employees are merely given preference over other applicants where skills are equal.

The new arrangements augment the current entitlement by creating a general statutory entitlement to temporary part-time employment, known as “bridge part-time work” (in German, “Brückenteilzeit”). Starting 1 January 2019, this entitlement will be available to employees in companies with more than 45 employees and permit part-time employment for a period of one to five years. In order to qualify, the employment relationship has to have been in existence for at least six months at the time when the application for bridge part-time work is made. As is the case with the current entitlement to part-time employment, which remains in effect, the new entitlement does not require the employee to provide reasons. The employee does not need to explain why he or she is seeking part-time employment. At the end of the agreed period of part-time work, the employee returns to full-time employment. During the period of part-time employment, the employee may not demand that the part-time employment be extended or curtailed. This is intended to provide employers with certainty in terms of personnel planning. The entitlement is limited in companies with 46 to 200 employees. Here, the entitlement is to be available to one out of every 15 employees. This arrangement is designed to ensure that companies remain productive.

Assessment
The German Labour Minister Hubertus Heil said about the new act, “Work and life need to be brought into balance again.” The new arrangements in the TzBfG have the aim, in particular, of counteracting what is known as the “part-time trap”. Without an arrangement setting forth a right to return to full-time employment, many employees in Germany who start working part time are denied by their employers from returning to full-time employment, referred to as the “part-time trap”. According to statistics compiled by the Institute for Employment Research (IAB), 15 million employees in Germany are caught in the part-time trap – about 80% of them women. And according to surveys conducted by the Federal Statistical Office, 2.6 million employees in Germany would like to work more and 1.8 million to work less. Because they are disproportionately affected by the part-time trap, women in particular will benefit from the introduction of bridge part-time work, because it will enable them to continue their careers after a period of temporary part-time employment. Nevertheless, despite the objective need and the public discussion regarding the introduction of bridge part-time work since the 2000s, bridge part-time work should also be viewed critically.

From the perspective of employees, it seems arbitrary, and moreover less effective, to restrict bridge part-time work to companies with at least 45 employees and to cap potential entitlements in companies with 46 to 200 employees, meaning that only 22 million workers in Germany will be entitled bridge part-time work. In addition, it is unclear what criteria an employer is to use in making its decision in cases where several employees simultaneously apply for part-time employment.

From the perspective of employers, the introduction of bridge part-time work is also not a gain. Particularly SMEs will struggle to contend with the new arrangements, as noted by the German Federation of Wholesale, Foreign Trade, and Services (BGA). Furthermore, bridge part-time work will further exacerbate the constant problem of the lack of skilled workers.