Germany’s Green party has proposed stay-at-home working to help the nation cope with record temperatures.
Just as other Europeans have found themselves struggling to deal with unprecedented heat levels, Germans have also been trying to find ways to cool off. “Heat-free home office days” are the latest suggestion.
With experts warning that temperatures closer to 50C will soon become the norm – instead of the lower 40s as they were this week – the opposition Greens say the government needs a heat action plan enabling employees to stay at home.
The party is calling for Hitzefrei or “heat-free” leave for workers and children. In a statement, the party, which is enjoying about 22.5% support in the polls, said: “We need to be prepared for the fact that these heatwaves are only going to continue, what with the ongoing climate crisis.”
Anton Hofreiter, the head of the Greens parliamentary group, and Bettina Hoffmann, the party’s environmental expert, have drawn up the proposals as part of their heat action plan, calling for “home office” for all employees except those who for operational reasons have to go to work.
The proposal came as forest fires raged around the town of Jüterborg in the state of Brandenburg, with 50 to 100 hectares alight. Firefighters could do little more than to look on due to the large number of munitions buried underground at the former GDR military training grounds with the danger of detonations making the burning forests too dangerous to enter.
Even as temperatures lowered on Friday across western Europe in the wake of record highs in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Paris, the continent continued to feel the effects of the heatwave. In France, hundreds of hectares of fields caught fire in Oise, the nation’s second largest grain-producing region, resulting in farmers being ordered to stop harvesting.
At least one farmer was killed when his harvester became engulfed in flames, local media reported. Belgium also suffered its first death as a direct result of the heatwave when the body of a 66-year-old woman was found near her caravan close to the beach.
Harvesting is in full swing in France, the European Union’s largest grain producer and exporter, where searing temperatures this week broke records in many parts of the country as well . It was the first time the authorities have ordered a halt to the harvest in Oise, FNSEA, France’s largest farm union, said.
The German Greens argue that those who work outdoors on construction sites or on farms are among millions who face a “health hazard” from the heat.
Elsewhere, in residencies for the sick or elderly, “cool rooms” should be set up, the party said. It is also calling for the introduction of more green spaces, with “trees, parks, green open spaces and paths” providing “large cooling air-conditioning systems” for towns and cities.
France is seen as an example to follow, with its government working on the implementation of a similar multi-faceted heat action plan.
Hoffmann said not only was employees’ health under threat but their concentration levels also suffered. “Because heat reduces performance and concentration ability, it’s also in the interests of our economy to protect people from the heat”.
According to one medical expert, for every 10-degree increase in summer heat, productivity sinks by 30%.
But employment representatives say the majority of German employees were needed in the workplaceand other measures had to be taken instead. Wolfgang Steiger of the ruling CDU’s economics council, called the Greens’ proposals unrealistic. “Work that needs to be done needs to be done, otherwise our economy cannot function,” he said.
On Thursday, the highest temperature ever recorded was in Lingen in north-west Germany, where it reached 42.6C.
Daniela Jacob of the Hamburg-based Climate Service Center Germany, is among a growing number of experts to argue that temperatures in the 40s will become a new norm and will creep closer to 50Cs over the next three decades.
“If one believes in the regional climate models … we could be seeing temperatures of up to 44, 45 or 46C.”