60-Stunden-Arbeitswoche? – Niedersachsen dereguliert Arbeitsrecht "wegen Omikron"

13 Jan. 2022 08:40

In Lower Saxony, the Corona crisis team has assessed the current pandemic situation. Because the measures against the Omikron variant would lead to the fact that more staff is likely to be absent, working time regulations will be changed “for a limited period”, it is said.

In the meantime, according to the Lower Saxony State Health Office, over 85 percent of all infections are due to the Omikron variant of the coronavirus. Therefore, one expects a difficult personnel situation for Lower Saxony, especially in the so-called critical infrastructure (“Kritis”). Because the Omikron variant spreads very quickly. With the help of a so-called general decree to implement the Working Hours Act, the feared quarantine-related loss of staff is now to be compensated, according to Lower Saxony’s Minister of Health Daniela Behrens (SPD) in Hanover on Tuesday Ed explained. The general decree should initially apply until April 10th.

Drastic softening of the Working Hours Act – only until April 10th?

This means that exceptions to the existing ban on Sunday work can now be made and the permissible weekly working time can be increased to a maximum of 60 hours in individual weeks. According to the state government, the exceptions should only apply to companies that are included in the so-called “critical infrastructure”.

After all, the guideline value, the maximum permitted average weekly working time of 48 hours, should not be changed. But in order to get to the now permitted 60 hours per week, the respective companies would have to be able to divide the staff into new multi-shift systems. The ordered overtime and the division of working time over the individual days of the week are to remain subject to co-determination as before. The employee representatives should continue to have a say in overtime. However, the extent to which there can be talk of co-determination in practice when a large part of the respective workforce is actually in quarantine and the work pressure also increases, currently appears to be unclearly regulated.

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Medical union expresses fears

In a statement, the “Marburger Bund” medical union assessed the possible extension of the maximum weekly working hours as an extremely bad signal, even if the works councils still had to agree and overtime was compensated. The state chairman Hans Martin Wollenberg is dated with the following warning Ed quoted:

“The shortage of staff will not be cured if the remaining employees work even more beyond the limits of their own capabilities.”

Lower Saxony’s new regulation on maximum working hours is not the first. Since the beginning of the Corona crisis, a number of legal regulations – each only “temporary” – have been issued at federal and state level in order to enable “temporary” overtime in certain areas. As early as April 2020, the DGB felt compelled to comment on the corona working time regulation, which was freshly issued at the time.

It also appears questionable whether the extension of the maximum weekly working hours will be limited to the currently much-cited “critical infrastructures”. This area could represent an ideal test field – with reference to the emergency situation – to try out a deterioration in working conditions and times for dependent employees. As early as 2020, exceptions for – as it was called at the time – “systemically important” branches of the economy were introduced. And not only the transport industry mentioned at the time should now be watching the new Lower Saxony measures with interest.

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Bundle of measures

The extension of the weekly working time in Lower Saxony is flanked by a number of other measures that either already apply nationwide or are under discussion, such as shortening the quarantine or vaccinations in pharmacies. Young people would also have to be prepared to no longer be exempt from the 2G regulations.

In connection with the discussed mandatory vaccination, the Lower Saxony health minister expressed the view that health authorities should be allowed to issue an employment ban “under certain circumstances” if employees in the health sector are not vaccinated against COVID-19 by March 15.

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