Cut working week for parents, says German minister
A boy wearing traditional Bavarian leather trousers sits on the shoulders of a man at the fairground at the Oktoberfest beer festival in Munich on October 3, 2011
"Full-time for parents must be re-defined," said Manuela Schwesig, the Social Democrat who took over the portfolio last month in the new "grand coalition" with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives.
"For parents, especially with small children, full-time should not be 40 but, for example, 32 hours," she said in an interview with Friday's Handelsblatt business daily, provoking irritation among several of her coalition partners.
Grappling with an ageing and shrinking population, Germany has rolled out measures to boost the birthrate as well as lure mothers back to work as Europe's top economy enjoys a robust labour market but struggles to fill skilled jobs.
But mass-circulation Bild newspaper Friday quoted calculations by the DIW research institute showing that a 32-hour working week would hit federal coffers by around 140 million euros ($190 million) a year.
"I'd like for both parents to reduce their weekly working time," Schwesig told Bild, adding that taxes could help fund the proposal. "A part of the loss of wages could then be settled out of tax money," the 39-year-old mother-of-one said.
It quoted Christian Democrats' chief economic expert Kurt Lauk as rejecting the proposal as the "wrong track", while the conservatives deputy parliamentary group chief Michael Fuchs asked: "I wonder where the money is to come from."
The Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry also voiced doubts.
"Eight out of 10 companies already offer flexible work times, one in three lend support with care provision," deputy chief executive Achim Dercks told the regional Passauer Neue Presse.
Amid handwringing about the so-called glass ceiling in Germany, the new coalition has agreed to introduce a women's quota for the supervisory boards of listed companies.
Merkel's vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, who is also energy and economy minister, prompted column inches aplenty this week by confirming he would go on devoting Wednesday afternoons to picking up his young daughter from nursery.
And mother-of-seven Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen has said she will focus on helping Bundeswehr soldiers combine family with career, which she hopes to enjoy herself by trying to work from home when possible.