In an effort to fight the effects of the COVID-19 epidemic the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) is working on a bill to relax restrictions on working time in Germany. Specifically, longer working hours, shorter rest periods and the employment of workers on Sundays and public holidays for certain activities will temporarily be permitted.

The right to issue such a bill without having to seek the approval of the parliament (Bundestag) and the Federal Council (Bundesrat) was granted to BMAS as part of the government’s social protection package passed on 27 March 2020. This new regulation authorizes BMAS to issue appropriate regulations on working hours by statutory order in agreement with the Federal Ministry of Health where necessary due to extraordinary emergencies with nationwide consequences, in particular in epidemic situations of national importance according to the Infection Protection Act, and to determine the conditions necessary for the protection of employees. The power to issue such statutory orders is limited until 31 December 2020.

BMAS now intends to make use of the authorization and to issue nationwide exceptions to working time regulations. The maximum daily working time allowed could be extended from ten to twelve hours and the minimum rest period between two working days could be shortened from eleven to nine hours. This most likely would affect employees  working in the production, packaging and storage of goods for daily use, in agriculture and in the water and energy supply sectors. Pharmacies and medical supply stores would also be allowed to require employees to work for longer hours. This extension of working time will ensure that the maintenance of public safety and order, health and nursing care, services of general interest and the supply of the population with existential goods will be maintained in the current situation of the COVID-19 epidemic. The regulation will apply until 30 June or 31 July 2020.

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