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Top German politician warns against adopting a 4-day workweek: ‘Never in history has a society increased its prosperity by working less’

Florian Gaertner—Photothek via Getty Images

The man in charge of Germany’s public purse does not believe in the four-day work week.

Finance minister Christian Lindner voiced his clear opposition to trade unions that want to lower the number of working hours without a corresponding reduction in wages.

“Never in history has a society increased its prosperity by working less,” he said Friday evening during an event in Switzerland, in comments reported by Bloomberg.

Germans however overwhelmingly favor the idea, according to a widely cited survey from the labor union-financed Hans Böckler Institute.

According to its figures, 73% of Germans support the switch to a four-day work week—assuming they received the same pay. Only 8% would accept reduced wages, while 17% outright opposed the notion.

A number of German companies struggling with skilled labor shortages have begun experimenting with the idea, instituting longer work days of nine hours or even 10 hours in exchange for giving staff one more day to themselves. Researchers claim this can lead to a more optimal outcome, citing more motivated workers and fewer sick days as possible advantages.

This has prompted Germany’s manufacturing union IG Metall to declare a 32-hour work week with full pay as a goal for the upcoming round of collective bargaining talks. The first test is scheduled to begin with the steel industry when wage negotiations for 80,000 workers in most of the country start next week.

These talks usually feature labor leaders starting with maximalist demands, before meeting employers in the middle, amidst Germany’s consensus-based culture that grants unions seats on company boards.

Tycoons argue working longer is a patriotic duty

Corporate owners in other parts of the world have been less enthused, however, and are reacting strongly against the thought of working less, or even just working a portion of the week from home.

The billionaire founder of Infosys and one of India's wealthiest businessmen, Narayana Murthy, recently urged employees to give 70 hours of their time a week to their employer as a patriotic duty to the nation.

“Our youngsters must say ‘this is my country, I want to work 70 hours a week,'” said Murthy.

Tesla’s largest shareholder and CEO, Elon Musk, meanwhile, lost his temper during his last quarterly earnings call when the mere thought of working from home popped up.

Asked last month whether his strategy of cutting prices on Tesla cars to drive vehicle sales may not be panning out, he defended the policy before moving on to declare remote work to be socially decadent.

“Why did I sleep in the factory so many times?” snapped Musk, who also runs a major manufacturing plant in Germany. “Because it mattered.”

While not an entrepreneur himself, German Finance Minister Lindner has cause to oppose pro-labor policies that go beyond simply trying to improve on his government’s poor economic record.

Lindner leads Germany’s economically liberal junior coalition partner, the Free Democrats, whose core voting block are small business owners and self-employed likely most concerned about the potential risk of a four-day work week to their competitiveness.

“The key to our prosperity remains hard work,” insisted Lindner.

This story was originally featured on Fortune.com

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