‘Employees have a right to work from home’: Calls for German heatwave action plan

The mercury is rising and experts believe extreme temperatures will become more frequent in future. How should the country deal with it?

'Employees have a right to work from home': Calls for German heatwave action plan
Greens are calling for 'home office' on hot days. Photo: DPA

As record-breaking temperatures take hold, people in Germany are trying to get through the uncomfortable weather.

But one political party says the country should be better prepared for heatwaves – especially as researchers believe they will be more common (and even hotter) in future.

The Greens say that during extreme heat employees should be able to work from home and those who have to do their job outdoors should be given “hitzefrei” (free from the heat) leave. They also say elderly and sick people need more attention.

It's part of their so-called “heat action plan”. “We must prepare ourselves for the fact that heatwaves will continue to increase with the ongoing climate crisis,” the party said.

The plan, seen by Spiegel, was drawn up by Anton Hofreiter, leader of the Green parliamentary group, and Bettina Hoffmann, the Greens' environmental expert. 

Among other things, Hofreiter and Hoffmann call for a “right to 'home office' for all employees, “unless there are operational reasons” that don't allow that.

Employees who work outdoors, for example on construction sites, in agriculture or cleaning buildings, must be granted a “right to be free of heat in the event of heat hazardous to health”.

However, employers' groups slammed the demand, saying it was unrealistic, reported DPA.

READ ALSO: Climate crisis: Berlin to be 'as hot as Australia in 30 years'

The paper claims that the coalition, made up of Angela Merkel's conservative party (the CDU and sister party the CSU) as well as the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), is not doing enough to protect people from the heat.

So far, the federal government has published non-binding recommendations for action, but has not initiated a joint action plan by the federal and state governments on how to deal with rising temperatures.

“Heatwaves are a serious problem for elderly and sick people,” Hofreiter told Spiegel.

READ ALSO: Is it ever legally too hot to go to work or school in Germany?

'Germany should look to France'

The Greens cite France as a role model. The government there is already implementing a multi-stage heat action plan.

“We urgently need a coordinated heat action plan to prepare our society for the extreme heat and protect our health,” Hofreiter said.

According to figures from the Robert Koch Institute, more than a thousand people died in the states of Berlin and Hesse alone during the summer of 2018 as a result of the heat.

People cooling down in Passau, Bavaria. Photo: DPA

The Greens want to see nationwide “monitoring of heat-related deaths” so more lives can ultimately be saved.

“The topic of climate change and health must be given much greater consideration in medical studies,” Hoffmann said.

People who are particularly susceptible to heat, such as the elderly, “should be protected from heat exposure”.

The party suggests a network of professional and neighbour support services be launched where volunteers would take care of people at risk. Meanwhile “cool rooms” could be set up in health care facilities.

As part of their plan, the party also demands more green spaces in cities.

“Trees, parks, green open spaces and walkways” act like “large cooling air-conditioning systems,” say Hofreiter and Hoffmann. 

Within the framework of urban development funding, the government is already set to provide financial support for the installation of free drinking water stations in the inner cities and heat hotspots, as well as at bus stops and train stations.

Useful rain

And even if thunderstorms come with the heat during the summer months, the Greens believe this could be useful.

They want to see more water from “heavy rainfall” be stored in underground water reservoirs that allow rainwater to seep away.

“At the same time, it can be used to cool our cities and relieve the burden on the sewage system,” they said.

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Germany’s Volkswagen considers job cuts as electric car shift stalls

Volkswagen's factory in the heart of the east German city of Dresden was conceived as a showcase for the auto giant's electric future but on a September afternoon the production line stands still.

Germany's Volkswagen considers job cuts as electric car shift stalls

Rather than serving as a shining example, the site, where the group’s flagship electric model ID.3 is finished, is more of an illustration of the challenges facing Volkswagen’s transition away from internal combustion engines.

Production of battery-powered vehicles at the plant is small scale and slower than its foreign rivals, which have left the storied German group for dust.

Chinese and American carmakers, such as BYD and Tesla, are well ahead of Volkswagen on the key components needed to make electric vehicles – notably in the area of battery technology.

Volkswagen is pouring tens of billions of euros into its pivot to electric vehicles. But with the economic outlook less than rosy, chief executive Oliver Blume has pledged to “work hard” on cutting costs to boost performance.

The slashing of 269 temporary posts at another key e-cars factory in nearby Zwickau recently has raised questions about the future of the workforce in Dresden, where only around 35 cars are produced every day out of the daily total of 40,000 made by Volkswagen worldwide.

The group this week admitted that it is “currently examining, with an open mind, how the (Dresden) site can be oriented in a sustainable and future-proof manner”, even as it insisted that “no adaptations are planned in the short-term”.

There were “no plans to stop production” of batter-powered cars at the plant, stressed Christian Sommer, spokesman for the Volkswagen unit in Saxony, after talks between workers and management.

VW executives were also at pains to underline that the jobs of some 300 people employed at the Dresden plant are safe for the time being.

But the emblematic plant’s purpose may have to be reimagined as Volkswagen’s electric ambitions struggle to get off the ground.

‘Weak market’

On a tour of the “Transparent Factory” in Dresden, the future of the plant is also a question posed by visitors and answered equivocally. One bemused guest wonders why the factory is not running full-time if the wait time for a new VW ID.3 is still around six months.

Volkswagen sold 321,000 battery-powered vehicles in the first half of 2023 – about 50 percent more than in the same period last year and roughly seven percent of its total sales.

But the sector has been blighted by low levels of demand.

File photo shows an electric car being charged outside the Volkswagen factory in Dresden.

File photo shows an electric car being charged outside the Volkswagen factory in Dresden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

“The car market is weak because the world economy is weak,” Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer of the Centre Automotive Research told AFP.

High inflation and the end of key government subsidy schemes have dampened the clamour for electric vehicles.

The gloomy economic context adds to the pressure felt by Volkswagen from foreign competitors, which are producing EVs cheaper and faster.

In China, local manufacturers are eating up the share of the domestic market — a vital source of revenue for Volkswagen, where it had previously been strong.

Fossil fuel cars

At a time when price pressures are intense, Volkswagen will however only be able to present its ID.2all, a model with a starting price of under €25,000, in 2025.

The group is putting over €100 billion into its electric turn over the next five years.

The bulk of the financing will come from sales of its existing range of fossil fuel-powered vehicles.

“VW has to earn money with internal combustion engines to cross-finance its electric transformation,” Stefan Bratzel, director of the Centre of Automotive Management, told AFP.

He also believes that more job cuts may be needed at VW. At Zwickau, he estimates that 10 percent of the plant’s 10,000 workers will be moved on.

By Sebastien ASH