Vol. 8:1 (2003) ► pp.43–68
Thirty years of work life programmes in Germany
Between 1974 and 2002 there were three state financed work life programmes at federal level in Germany, with a financial outlay of more than €1 billion. The author evaluates the programmes’ achievements, conflicts and deficits and pays special attention to the role of social science research in work design projects; he concludes by comparing the German experiences and the Norwegian tradition of work life programmes since the 1960s.
The social partners participated at programme and project level from the very beginning. Many successes have been achieved: the easing of physical work load and unhealthy work; the development of flexible and decentralized work organization in industry and services; providing working people with opportunities to make better use of their qualifications.
There were also lost opportunities: due to massive conflicts between trades unions, employers’ associations and the programme administration, the initial perspective of enhancing democratic participation and enlarging the scope of co-determination in industry was abandoned, after a series of successful experiments, as early as 1980. The implementation of modern forms of work organization, including semi-autonomous group work, largely failed; it was (and still is) restricted to less than 5% of enterprises in Germany. Recent tendencies in industry to return to Tayloristic forms of work organisation, to intensify work processes by introducing market-driven work organisation and flexible working time schemes, directly contradict the original intentions of the programmes.
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