Why Europe's Laws On Vacations Are Better Than Your Wildest Dreams (and How Badly Americans Get Screwed)
Continued from previous page
In upstate New York, McDonalds “gives” you two weeks paid vacation after one year of service provided you work a minimum of 20 hours a week for one year. (Your vacation pay is “ based on the average weekly hours worked, multiplied by your rate of pay.”) Same company, same product, but our lack of legal protections show clearly that in our countries Corporate America is at the helm. (Can you imagine what a McDonalds would say if you asked to start your vacation again because you became ill just after you began it?) Economists call our lack of legal protections “labor market flexibility,” as if it were a good thing. Sicko.
Overall, the picture in the U.S is even bleaker. In Europe all workers, both part-time and full-time, are entitled by law to the same paid vacations. However, in the U.S., only 36 percent of part-time workers are “given” any paid vacation at all, and only 37 percent receive any paid holidays. So when you combine full-time and part-time workers in America, on average we receive only nine days of paid annual leave (vacation/sick days) and six paid holidays. That’s downright pathetic.
But wait, isn’t all that extra vacation wrecking Europe?
That certainly is a widely held view among conservative elites (who, of course, have plenty of paid vacation and sick leave of their own). They tell us that Greece’s downfall is the result of too much time off to drink and be merry. As Time m agazine reports:
Last fall, the chairman of the China's sovereign wealth fund, Jin Liqun, tied Europe's economic troubles to its "sloth-inducing, indolence-inducing labor laws." Earlier this year, Mitt Romney warned that European-style benefits would "poison the very spirit of America." And British-born Harvard historian Niall Ferguson has written that in contrast to Americans' Protestant work ethic, Europeans have an "atheist sloth ethic."
Even Angela Merkel, the German prime minister said, "We cannot have a currency (the euro) with one person getting lots of holiday and another person very little.”
Unfortunately, these illustrious personages are letting their conservative ideologies blind them to the basic facts: Germans have much more paid time off than do the Greeks and their economy is doing much better than ours – as well as the rest of Europe’s. According to a 2011 Eurofound study, “coupled with public holidays, the average German has 40 days of holiday a year -- still tied with the Danes for the most in Europe. Greeks and Portuguese by comparison each average 33 days vacation a year, including public holidays.”
Furthermore, Time reports that “there's the growing body of research showing that time off can actually help workers get more done. A 2009 study in Harvard Business Review , for example, showed that requiring business consultants to take time off every week actually boosted their productivity." Similarly, a study by Ernst & Young “showed that the longer the vacation their employees took, the better they performed.”
So why do American companies provide so many vacations days in Europe and so little in the U.S.?
Because they have to. It’s the law of the land in Europe and if American companies want to do business there they have to play by those rules. But where did those rules come from?
The story starts after WWII when the United States wanted to make sure Europe wouldn’t slip into the Communist orbit. At the same time we also wanted to remodel Germany so that it would not rise again to cause another world war. The solution was two-fold. First, using the money and muscle, we “encouraged” the empowerment of non-Communist unions all over Western Europe. Imagine that! The U.S. made sure that unions would flourish (as long as they weren’t friendly to the Soviets). In addition, in Germany, we encouraged “co-determination” which meant democratizing corporations by putting worker representatives on the corporate boards of directors. The unstated purpose, at first, was to make it less likely that the giant German steel and coal conglomerates would ever again become the bedrock of a fascist state.