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Related Categories: U.S. | Labor & Workers
History of an eventful myth: the 8-hour day
by Elias Felten and Thomas Ritt
Saturday Apr 11th, 2020 4:14 AM
Since industrialization, it has been the norm for wage-earners of all ages, including children, to work 15 to 16 hours a day. There was no time for rest. An impoverishment of the working class was the result.
History of an eventful myth: the 8-hour day
by Elias Felten

[This article published on 3/16/2020 is translated from the German on the Internet, Der 8-Stunden-Arbeitstag: Geschichte eines Mythos - A&W-Blog.]


"However, in a time like the present one, it is not acceptable that on the one hand tens of thousands of people work longer than eight hours, ten and eleven hours, while on the other hand many tens of thousands of people are completely unemployed and unable to find the necessary work. These words are more relevant than ever. In fact they are almost 100 years old. They were pronounced by Ferdinand Hanusch in 1918 to justify the necessity of the 8-hour day. This is still in the law today. In fact, however, working hours have been steadily extended since its introduction. In 2018, even the 12-hour day was legalized.

The demand for the 8-hour day and a 40-hour week

Looking back, the 8-hour day has been the central demand of the workers' movement in the 19th and 20th centuries. Since industrialization, it has been the norm for wage-earners of all ages, including children, to work 15 to 16 hours a day. There was no time for rest. An impoverishment of the working class was the result. In certain industrial areas the fitness rate was below 5 percent. These alarming figures led to the first tentative steps to reduce the workload by law. From 1880 onward, the maximum daily working time limits were successively reduced to 12 and subsequently to 11 hours. However, a reduction to 8 hours could not be realized during the Danube Monarchy.

Nevertheless, the workers' internal movement continued to exert pressure. On 1 May in particular, the demand for the 8-hour day was to be heard on the streets. In addition, the workers recognized early on the advantages of internationalizing their cause. As early as 1919, an agreement was concluded within the framework of the International Labor Organization in Washington to limit the daily working time to 8 hours. Since industrialization, it has been the norm for wage-earners of all ages, including children, to work 15 to 16 hours a day. There was no time for rest. An impoverishment of the working class was the result. In certain industrial areas the fitness rate was below 5 percent. These alarming figures led to the first tentative steps to reduce the workload by law. From 1880 onward, the maximum daily working time limits were successively reduced to 12 and subsequently to 11 hours. However, a reduction to 8 hours could not be realized during the Danube Monarchy.

Nevertheless, the workers' internal movement continued to exert pressure. On 1 May in particular, the demand for the 8-hour day was to be heard on the streets. In addition, the workers recognized early on the advantages of internationalizing their cause. As early as 1919, an agreement was concluded within the framework of the International Labor Organisation in Washington to limit the daily working time to 8 hours. It was above all this concentration of forces at the international level that ultimately prompted the Austrian legislator to introduce the 8-hour day in general by law in the same year. At that time, however, the working week was set at 48 hours. In fact, it was to take another 50 years before the Austrian legislator fulfilled the demand fo a 40-hour week.

It was only after the reintroduction of democracy in 1945 that there was any serious discussion about a reduction in weekly working hours. However, the Austrian economy first had to be rebuilt after the war. That is why the issue of reducing working hours was not a priority on the social policy agenda. Wage increases were the first priority. With the economic upswing, however, the issue of reducing working hours also came back into focus. In 1959, the ÖGB succeeded in pushing through a reduction in weekly working hours to 45 hours by means of a general collective agreement. This ultimately paved the way for legal regulation of working hours. In fact, it is not uncommon for the social partners to take action first and create facts at the collective bargaining level, which are then taken up by the legislator and incorporated into legislation. This was also the case with the Working Hours Act (Arbeitszeitgesetz, AZG), which first came into force in 1969.

The Working Hours Act 1969

The introduction of the AZG was preceded by a referendum initiated by the SPÖ, which called for a gradual reduction of the working week to 40 hours by the mid-1970s. This was supported by almost 900,000 people. The result of this petition ultimately prompted the social partners to enter into negotiations on a gradual introduction of the 40-hour week. In fact, an agreement was reached in the same year, which ultimately served as a model for the later AZG.

In summary, it can be said that it took almost 100 years before the demand for an 8-hour working day and a 40-hour working week became reality. The AZG is the result of this long political struggle. Even today, § 3 AZG sets the normal working hours at 8 hours per day and 40 hours per week.

Of course, these two brands were never absolute limits. Exceeding them has always been permissible. In addition, the AZG already opened up the possibility of calculating working time in 1969. This meant that the statutory requirement of a 40-hour week did not have to be observed in each individual week of the calendar year, but only on average over a longer fixed period. This makes it possible to exceed the statutory working time limits in individual weeks without creating an obligation for employers to pay a supplement.
This possibility of so-called "flexibility" of working time was the price that employers:inside agreed to a reduction in weekly working hours.

The flexibility screw is turning

It is noteworthy that since the introduction of the AZG in 1969, all major revisions of working time law have aimed to make the existing regulations more "flexible". In 1994, so-called "decade work" and "flexitime" were introduced. In both cases these are forms of calculating working time. This means that both the 8-hour limit and the 40-hour limit may be exceeded in individual weeks without overtime being incurred if corresponding compensation is granted in time off in other weeks.

The next major flexibility amendment came into force in 1997. Its aim was to further extend the existing calculation options. For example, the possibility was created to set longer than one-year calculation periods by collective agreement and to extend the normal working week to up to 50 hours per week. The transfer of existing time credits to the next calculation period was also permitted. In addition, the general authorization was created to grant appropriate time compensation for overtime instead of remuneration. In return, however, the determination of the location of working time, i.e. its beginning and end, was removed from the employers' right to issue instructions.

The flexibility screw was tightened again in 2007. The parties to the collective agreement were thus authorized to extend the daily normal working time generally - i.e. independently of the agreement on a period for averaging - from 8 to 10 hours and to allow 12-hour shifts for shift work. The 10-hour limit for flexitime was also reinforced in that it was no longer made dependent on an authorization under the collective agreement. De facto, however, this amendment primarily extended the possibility of introducing a 12-hour working day. Although this had already been permitted before in the case of increased work requirements, it was only permissible for a maximum of 12 consecutive weeks per year. The AZG amendment of 2007 extended this possibility to up to 24 weeks. In return, part-time employees were entitled to an overtime bonus, which is subject to a number of exceptions.

The reason usually given for these far-reaching statutory flexibility options is that they are intended to meet the challenges of a global economy. In addition, it is often pointed out that the existing regulations no longer meet the needs of employees. The latter probably alludes to the increasing interest of employees in self-determined time management. On the one hand, it is a matter of a better compatibility of work and family life, on the other hand, it is a matter of a good work-life-balance. Both are undoubtedly facilitated by longer periods of consecutive leisure time. The last amendment to the AZG in 2018, which generally extended the maximum permissible daily working time to 12 hours and the weekly working time - subject to its calculation - to 60 hours, was also justified, among other things, by the fact that it is intended to improve the compatibility of work and family life. For example, the extension of normal daily working time to 12 hours in the case of flexitime is only permissible if it is simultaneously agreed that time credits can be consumed in whole days and in connection with weekend rest. This should result in a 4-day week. However, the law does not provide for a minimum number of "long weekends" to be granted to employees:in flexitime with a normal daily working time of 12 hours. The possibility must not be "excluded". It is also controversial whether the use of time credits in whole days must be agreed with the employers or can be claimed unilaterally. In view of the lack of planning security for employees, it is therefore questionable whether this regulation actually has a positive effect on the compatibility of family and work.

In any case, it is clear that almost 50 years after its entry into force, little remains of the basic idea of the AZG. The normal working time limits of 8 hours per day and 40 hours per week are still in the law. However, everyday working life in the company looks different. As a result, the 2018 amendment to the AZG has legalized the 12-hour day, which was previously only permitted within narrow limits. With flexitime, even 12 hours of normal working time per day are now possible.

The trend is therefore clearly in the direction of extending rather than reducing normal working time limits.
Conclusion

Polemically one could say that what the workers' movement had fought for 100 years was destroyed in half that time. Of course, one could also take a less critical stance and speak of a win-win situation. In this way, the economy receives an "increase" in productivity, on the one hand, and the employees on the other hand an "increase" in leisure time. However, there are doubts that this "more" in leisure time is actually an advantage if one looks at the number of work-related mental illnesses in Austria, which is constantly rising. This is not only due to the high workload and excessively long working days. Above all, the increasing digitalization of work processes seems to be a decisive factor. Nevertheless, it is apparent that the longer leisure time phases made possible by flexitime and calculation periods are not sufficient to cushion the work-related stress and provide sufficient time for regeneration. This is not only problematic from a socio-political point of view, but also from a legal point of view. It seems that the AZG is increasingly no longer able to fulfil its actual purpose: namely to protect the health of the employees employed in Austria. In view of this finding, the question arises as to how to get out of this spiral of flexibility. There is no simple answer. One thing is clear, however: in a united Europe with freedom of establishment and freedom to provide services, it is like fighting windmills if you try to stop an extension of working hours at exclusively national level. The workers' movement had already recognized this at the end of the 19th century.

_______________________________________________________________________________________


Digitization is like bad weather
13 March 2020
by Thomas Ritt

[This article published on 3/13/2020 is translated from the German on the Internet,

The processes of digitisation permeate all areas of life. This is being driven massively by economic interests. To prevent negative effects, digitization urgently needs more shaping of politics and society.

Digitization on the advance

The digitization of the world of work and of life as a whole is proceeding at great speed and is penetrating even the most private areas of life. This speed and the willingness to use digital services are due in no small part to the many advantages of the digital world. One cannot be against digitization. On the one hand, it brings enormous advantages and has the potential to improve life. And on the other hand, it would be like having something against the weather. Digitization and the weather are taking place. But just like the weather, you can choose whether or not to get wet when it rains. And that doesn't depend on the weather, but on whether you have an umbrella and know how to use it. The digital revolution requires political action and decisions. The design requirements are enormous and affect all areas of life. There is also plenty to do at the municipal level.

Digitization of commerce

Online trade has clear advantages for many consumers. The flip side, however, also brings clear disadvantages for the city's structures, the community and the employees. Mail order business weakens grown urban structures and lively neighborhoods. In particular, subordinate shopping streets and disadvantaged neighborhoods come under pressure. In addition, online trade leads to a sharp increase in delivery traffic, which is often carried out inefficiently for the city and the environment. Many half-empty light trucks are turning through the streets. In addition, there are often poor pay and working conditions as well as widespread pseudo self-employment with corresponding social consequences. In this context, the quality of delivery, which is often criticized, should therefore not come as a surprise. The success of online commerce also thrives in an environment of tax minimization, which has led to a drastic

distortion of competition to the detriment of stationary trade. The latter is counting on further job cuts - also as a reaction to further digitization steps, for example in cash register systems. One cannot be against digitization. On the one hand, it bricks up enormous advantages and has the potential to improve life. And on the other hand, it would be like having something against the weather. Digitization and the weather are taking place. On the one hand, it bricks up enormous advantages and has the potential to improve life. And on the other hand, it would be like having something against the weather. Digitalization and the weather are taking place. But just like the weather, you can choose whether or not to get wet when it rains. And that doesn't depend on the weather, but on whether you have an umbrella and know how to use it. The digital revolution requires political action and decisions. The design requirements are enormous and affect all areas of life. There is also plenty to do at the municipal level.

Digitization of commerce

Online trade has clear advantages for many consumers. The flip side, however, also brings clear disadvantages for the city's structures, the community and the employees. Mail order business weakens grown urban structures and lively neighborhoods. In particular, subordinate shopping streets and disadvantaged neighborhoods come under pressure. In addition, online trade leads to a sharp increase in delivery traffic, which is often carried out inefficiently for the city and the environment. Many half-empty light trucks are turning through the streets. In addition, there are often poor pay and working conditions as well as widespread pseudo self-employment with corresponding social consequences. In this context, the quality of delivery, which is often criticized, should therefore not come as a surprise. The success of online commerce also thrives in an environment of tax minimization, which has led to a drastic
distortion of competition to the detriment of stationary trade. The latter is counting on further job cuts - also as a reaction to further digitization steps, for example in cash register systems. This will further increase the pressure on retail employees.

Optimized individual transport

Expectations and promises of a brave new world through digitization are particularly high in the area of transport. The projects visible so far, however, tend to make this world appear as an optimized world of individual transport with corresponding negative consequences for the city. Even now, car sharing is not offered where it would make sense - namely on the outskirts of the city, where there is a thin public transport network. But there is little to earn there. The offers concentrate on the densely built-up area, as competition to public transport. More cars through car sharing and not less are the result. Many residential areas, which were protected with "sophisticated" traffic systems to prevent through traffic, are now easy to cross. Autonomous driving also holds a lot of potential for traffic congestion and urban sprawl. Kids from the newly enabled suburbs, for example, can easily drive to school alone in an SUV.
Smart Home: Are you still living?

Digitization is playing an increasingly important role in the home as well. In addition, online trade leads to a sharp increase in delivery traffic, which is often carried out inefficiently for the city and the environment. Many half-empty light trucks are turning through the streets. In addition, there are often poor pay and working conditions as well as widespread pseudo self-employment with corresponding social consequences. In this context, the quality of delivery, which is often criticized, should therefore not come as a surprise. The success of online commerce also thrives in an environment of tax minimization, which has led to a drastic distortion of competition to the detriment of stationary trade. The latter is counting on further job cuts - also as a reaction to further digitization steps, for example in cash register systems. This will further increase the pressure on retail employees.

Optimized individual transport

Expectations and prerogatives of a brave new world through digitization are particularly high in the area of transport. The projects visible so far, however, tend to make this world appear as an optimized world of individual transport with corresponding negative consequences for the city. Even now, car sharing is not offered where it would make sense - namely on the outskirts of the city, where there is a thin public transport network. But there is little to earn there. The offers concentrate on the densely built-up area, as competition to public transport. More cars through car sharing and not less are the result. Many residential areas, which were protected with "sophisticated" traffic systems to prevent through traffic, are now easy to cross. Autonomous driving also holds a lot of potential for traffic congestion and urban sprawl. Kids from the newly enabled suburbs, for example, can easily drive to school alone in an SUV.

Smart Home: Are you still living?

Digitization is playing an increasingly important role in the home as well. This is most noticeable in short-term rentals such as Airbnb. They play a comparatively minor role in Vienna because of the high share of apartments where short-term rentals are excluded. However, land speculation is currently leading to extremely high land prices for newly constructed apartments, which are then too expensive to let on the normal housing market. These apartments, built for investment, are vacant or are marketed via platforms, so that higher returns can be generated beyond rent regulation. Short-term letting in new buildings is becoming an increasing problem, and the first processes are just getting underway. Other likewise digital systems such as smart meters or smart homes and "Ambient Assisted Living" also have an enormous potential for unwanted monitoring. Coupled with demographic developments, smart systems at home can be used to reduce the welfare state.

Digitization in public space

The public space is the decisive factor and turns urban canyons into cities. But the more people live in Vienna, the higher and more different are the demands on and the pressure on public space. Digitization is further increasing this pressure. Public space is being occupied and seen as part of business models. Thousands of "free bikes" fall from the sky and remain on the pavements and squares until they are disposed of. E-scooters are being placed en masse in public spaces - if the business is not profitable, the companies disappear from the scene again. In addition, there are commercial desires that want to profit from the common good and like to stand on the sidewalk: E-charging stations for cars, distribution boxes for new mobile phone networks or a lot of packing stations to better bring the flood of parcels to the consumers. The motto seems to be: first take the space, then perhaps negotiate about it.

Smart City worth billions

With the smart city approach, however, achieving sustainability seems to be quite simple again: without major system interventions with intelligent control, suitable networking and a few technical innovations. The term Smart City also covers markets worth billions. Companies in the technology sector have a profit-oriented interest in helping to shape smart cities. In this context, urban administrative and political levels work closely together and sometimes, it seems, uncritically with large companies. On the one hand, urban infrastructures increasingly fall into the hands of private companies, which can also act against the interests of the population, while on the other hand data security and privacy protection are not clarified. The rapidly growing volume of data and its possible interconnection require responsible concepts for dealing with the fundamental right of privacy.

Attention Offliner

In addition to many new possibilities and advantages of digitization, there are also negative effects such as the offliners, the excluded. There are still people who have no access to the Internet at all. These people must not be forgotten in the process of digitization.

Actively shaping digitization - preventing negative effects

But digitization can also be designed positively. The efficiency gains from the digital upheaval are so great that countermeasures and redistribution are theoretically feasible without problems. However, there is a need for policymakers to shape and control the process, and this also requires a democratic process. Politics has to create framework conditions and set priorities, and the following guidelines can help here:

Sufficient funding for cities...
Distribution of rationalization gains
Democracy instead of algorithm
Sensitive handling of city data
Common European Urban Policy
Regulation and legal force
City must also remain analog

If politics does not shape and set framework conditions, then the corporations do. And they design according to their priorities. And if you want to know what that would look like for a just society, then send a poodle out into the rain.

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