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Euro-Labor, Sans Siesta

European workers, so envied by Americans for their 35-hour workweek and five- and six-week vacations, are having to put in more hours.

In Germany last week, DaimlerChrysler persuaded support staff at its Mercedes division to work longer hours without more pay. The deal is preceded by a recent agreement at conglomerate Siemens, which extends the work week at one of its divisions from 35 to 40 hours.

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In France, auto-partsmaker Robert Bosch got some of its workers to add an hour to the legally mandated 35-hour work week. Introduced in 2000, the shorter week has boosted overtime pay and absenteeism, and the finance minister wants reform.

Europe needs to push this trend. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows a steep 20 percent drop in hours worked in Germany and France since 1970. Even though these nations can compete with US productivity on a per-hour basis, their workers' overall output lags the US by 10 to 20 percent.

Europeans have a point in that their work ethic allows for more balanced living. But there's plenty of room for change before their cherished lifestyle is in serious danger.

One thing that can ease the transition is for executives to make sacrifices along with workers. In their deal last week, Mercedes management agreed to salary cuts when their unions said they would forgo a planned wage increase. That's a model for America, too.


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