ARC's 1st Law: As a "progressive" online discussion grows longer, the probability of a nefarious reference to Karl Rove approaches one

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

August in Europe

Ahh, it's August in Europe. Can you hear the crickets chirping? The only ones left in the cities and towns throughout Europe (at least those that are not tourist destinations) are the old and infirm, cast aside to care for themselves for the month. Conversation overheard outside of Dusseldorf:

Ist hier ein drahtloses Telefon, Oma. Ruf uns an, wenn du etwas benötigst und wir die Großeltern der Nachbarn anrufen
Translation: Here's a cordless phone, Grandma! Call us if you need something and we'll send over the neighbor's grandparents to help!

Anyway, the International Herald Tribune (int'l edition of the NYTimes) pines for the day that we all will be taxed high enough that we demand the month of August off...
The workplace: It's August; guess where everybody is
By Thomas Fuller International Herald Tribune

PARIS The Hotel Louis II is an elegant three-star in the tourist-filled Odeon district of Paris. And while the tourism business is generally brisk around the city, the management at the Louis II has posted this sign on its shuttered facade: "Closed for Summer Holidays."

Residents of European cities have come to expect just about everything from restaurants to pharmacies to be shut for several weeks in August. But closing a hotel at the height of the tourist season is more unusual. It seems to serve as confirmation, if any were needed, of how seriously Europeans continue to take their vacations.

As you walk the deserted streets of residential neighborhoods in cities across northern Europe these days, it is hard to imagine that there was once a time when August was a month like every other. But in the timeline of European civilizations, paid summer vacations came relatively late - they were unheard of before 1913, said Michael Huberman, a specialist of economic history at the University of Montreal. If you didn't work, you didn't get paid.

Huberman said paid vacations were first instituted in the Soviet Union and other Communist countries in the 1930s. The practice then spread to Western Europe, spurred by leftist political parties.

"The left in Europe was growing and looked to the Soviet Union for answers," Huberman said. "By the mid- to late 1930s, paid vacations were common in Western Europe."

He said workers initially earned the right to one or two weeks of paid vacation. Today, all European countries have laws requiring companies to offer employees four weeks (the standard in Belgium, Britain, Germany and Italy, among others) to five weeks (as in Austria, Denmark, France and Sweden). But actual vacation time is usually longer because of collective agreements negotiated by unions or other compensation arrangements.

When actual vacation time is calculated, Italian workers average 7.9 weeks, Germans 7.8 and France 7, according to data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Two things:
  1. Do we really need to "look to the Soviet Union" for social & economicy policies now that we're 15 years beyond its demise?
  2. Does anyone in Europe seriously wonder why they have such high unemployment?

Yet it remains one of the most striking dichotomies in the Western world that longer vacation time never caught on in the United States. The United States and Australia are the only countries in the industrialized world that do not have national minimum requirements for vacation time, according to the International Labor Organization, an arm of the United Nations.

Coincidentally, these two countries have the fastest growing economies in the "Western" and developed world.... purely a coincidence
In the United States, 23 percent of private-sector workers, including part-time employees, are not offered paid vacations by their employers, according to a survey released in March 2004 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

I wonder what percentage of the 23 Percent are part-time employees? I bet it is a significant portion... By the way, should we give 8 weeks off to someone who is only working 6 months out of the year anyway?
Workers who do have the option of paid vacation are given relatively little, an average of nine days per year for employees with one year of seniority at a company, according to government data. Those with more seniority tend to get more. Employers in the United States are also not required by federal law to pay employees for sick days or national holidays, although many do, said Lonnie Golden, a specialist on working time at the University of Pennsylvania.

9 days = approximately 2 weeks vacation, the standard vacation package that someone would get when they just started working with a company. Given that the employee hasn't demonstrated their abilities yet, it's probably best to not give them 7 weeks paid vacation straight off the bat. Just a thought...
"In Europe, there's this whole notion that vacation is an investment for employees so that they stay healthy," Golden said. "In the U.S., this tradition doesn't exist."

Except for the poor grandparents who are left in apartments without air conditioning while the children & grandchildren head to the coast. Not sure how dying from heat exhausting is viewed as healthy... nor how it can be healthy (emotionally) for a worker to have his parents/grandparents croak while he/she was off tanning on the French riviera...
In recent years, economists have been fascinated by the reasons Americans and Europeans diverged so radically.

Some say higher taxes in Europe led workers to demand more time off rather than salary increases because getting more money might mean slipping into a higher tax bracket. Others contend that stronger trade unions in Europe were in a better position to demand concessions from employers. And still others say longer working hours are simply ingrained in the American psyche.

I contend it's the high-taxes... And the lack of competitive drive in the average European when it comes to anything other than soccer (sorry, football).
Will paid longer vacation time ever catch on in the United States? Probably not in the short term.

The Families and Work Institute, a nonprofit organization in New York, conducted a survey of 1,003 wage and salaried employees in the U.S. work force last year. The survey, which had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points, found that among those who had the option of paid vacation, 36 percent said they were not planning to take all of it.

This, surely, is a statistic that would be met with bewilderment in Europe.

Yes, I'm sure it would be... So would our economic growth, our ability to assimilate foreigners into the melting pot that is America, our ability to govern ourselves without a Monarch or Despot for 229 years (despite what the MoveOners, Kossacks, & DUers would say)

To which I say... THANK GOD!!!

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler