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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 June, 2003, 11:41 GMT 12:41 UK
Germans have 'too much time off'
Boating in Bavaria on the Corpus Christi day holiday
Germans get more free time than other EU workers
Germany's economics and labour minister has provoked anger by arguing that Germans take too many holidays.

"In terms of vacation time, public holidays, and working hours, we have without doubt reached the limit," Wolfgang Clement said in an interview with Stern magazine.

Mr Clement said the economy - currently hovering on the brink of recession - was being damaged because workers were having too much time off.

"It's remarkable that growth next year will be increased by 0.5%, just because of the way holidays fall," Mr Clement said.

Holy row

Mr Clement made his comments on one of many of Germany's traditional religious festivals, the feast of Corpus Christi, which is widely celebrated in Catholic areas.

Corpus Christi Day procession in Crostwitz, Germany on 19 June 2003

The minister's remarks earned a rebuke from the head of the Catholic Church in Germany, Cardinal Karl Lehmann.

The cardinal said getting rid of holidays would "have a damaging impact on the social climate".

Germans get up to 16 public holidays a year, depending on which region they live in and whether fixed-date holidays fall on a weekend or not. This compares with eight days in Britain and 11 in France.

They also enjoy a shorter average working week, of 35 hours, than workers in many other European countries.

Holidays are also more generous in Germany than elsewhere in the European Union, averaging 30 days a year, compared to 26 days EU-wide.

Reform agenda

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's centre-left government has been struggling for months to shake up Germany's labour protection laws which many economists see as an obstacle to growth.

The cabinet on Wednesday approved a package of new laws to make it easier for the bosses of small firms to hire and fire staff and cut the length of time jobless workers can receive unemployment benefit.

The Chancellor has also set his sights on trimming the cost of Germany's relatively lavish welfare system.

He faced down opposition from within his Social-Democratic Party in March to commit his government to Agenda 2010, a list of reforms to healthcare provision, pensions and unemployment benefits as well as more flexible labour laws.

Within joblessness running at more than 10%, the reforms have also angered trade unions.

Germany had the slowest growth in Europe last year, at a mere 0.2%, and zero growth in the October-to-December period.

The government is forecasting 0.75% growth in 2003, though many economists think that might be optimistic.

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