Development of flexible hours schemes
According to most writers, the Messerschmidt-Bölkow-Blohm corporation in the Federal Republic of Germany3 was the first to introduce flexible working hours for a substantial proportion of the workforce. The idea developed and spread at an impressive rate in the space of a few years, and by 1973 it was estimated that 6 per cent of the labour force in the Federal Republic were on a flexible schedule. Information dating from 1975 indicated that one-third of firms and six out of every ten government offices had adopted flexible hours. The system appears, however, to have found widest acceptance of all in Switzerland, where it covers 30 to 40 per cent of all employees (or a total of 1,300,000 to 1,700,000 persons) and in some cities (e.g. Winterthur and Zurich) up to 70 per cent.
The system has also spread, though at a slower pace, in other Western European countries, for example, Austria, Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the Nordic countries.
In Belgium, where a start was made in 1970, it has only very recently been adopted on any wide scale in manufacturing (especially in public enterprises). In Prance, an estimate in 1971 put the number of firms with flexible hours at about 15; a later estimate in 1975, however, gave a figure of at least 800 establishments in numerous sectors, particularly in public administration and social services. In the United Kingdom, flexible hours were likewise first introduced in 1971. By 1974, an estimated 500 organisations and institutions and 100,000 employees had opted for the system. At present it is chiefly found in insurance firms, local government and the public services, and mainly covers white-collar workers. In industry, it has been introduced by a number of pharmaceutical, food and tobacco companies.1 The single largest experiment with flexible hours made by a single enterprise seems to be the one started by Fiat in Italy in 1973, which now covers 25,000 company workers.
To date, flexible hours may be regarded as a specifically European innovation, but the system has also been tried out in Canada, the United States and Japan, for example.
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