Partly paid, partly unpaid: A good one in eight employees in Germany worked overtime in 2021. Unions plead for better working conditions – and defend themselves against demands for longer working hours.

More than every eighth employee in Germany worked overtime last year. The Federal Statistical Office announced on Wednesday that an average of 4.5 million people did more work than agreed in their contract.

That is 12 percent of the 37.8 million employees in Germany. Men, with a share of 14 percent, worked overtime a little more often than women with 10 percent.

Of the people who worked overtime in 2021, almost 22 percent did unpaid overtime, it said. Almost 18 percent were paid for it. 72 percent used a working time account.

Hans Böckler Foundation: worrying numbers

For most employees, overtime was limited to a few hours a week, according to the statisticians. At the same time, however, 29 percent of those affected worked at least 15 hours overtime per week.

Such numbers are worrying, said the scientific director of the Economic and Social Sciences Institute of the Hans Böckler Foundation, which is close to the union, Bettina Kohlrausch. “Against this background, it becomes clear once again how unnecessary and counterproductive discussions about increasing weekly working hours are.” She called for attractive conditions to combat the shortage of skilled workers, including working time arrangements that leave room for a better work-life balance.

Most recently, Industry President Siegfried Russwurm had called for longer working hours as a remedy for the increasing shortage of workers. “I personally have great sympathy for an optional increase in weekly working hours – of course with full wage compensation,” he said. According to Russwurm, a 42-hour week would certainly be easier to implement than a general introduction of pensions at 70. Michael Hüther, director of the employer-related Institute of German Economics (IW), had previously spoken out in favor of a 42-hour week as standard working time in the debate about falling income from pension insurance.

DGB: Irresponsibly high level

According to the analysis by the Wiesbaden statisticians, overtime was most widespread in the financial and insurance sectors last year, where 19 percent were affected. In the energy sector, too, a relatively large number of people worked overtime at 18 percent. The proportion was lowest at 6 percent in the hospitality industry and the arts and entertainment industry (8 percent) – but corona restrictions are likely to have had an impact here.

Anja Piel, board member of the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB), spoke of an irresponsibly high level of overtime. That was “wage theft on the bones of employees”. Employers pocket tens of billions of euros every year. “Employees are not only at a disadvantage when it comes to money, but also when it comes to their health.” The federal government has a duty to develop effective counter-strategies.