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Most Citizens Stick to Family Sabbath Tradition : West Germany Debates Sunday Work

February 05, 1989|KEVIN COSTELLOE | Associated Press

FRANKFURT, West Germany — Public debate about whether they should work on Sunday is making it hard for citizens of Europe's richest country to enjoy the Sabbath quiet the Bible extols and their constitution protects.

Most West Germans hew to the tradition of a day on which the family has coffee and cake at home and the children often are even discouraged from going next door to play with friends.

Popular magazines and newspapers carry contributions from prominent people singing the virtues of Sunday in church and at home.

The constitution provides special protection for Sundays as days "of rest from work and of spiritual uplift," but union leaders say 2.2 million in this nation of nearly 62 million people work at least one Sunday a month.

'Avalanche' of Opposition

Hermann Rappe, head of the 630,000-member chemical workers union, issued the latest call for more Sunday work. Other union leaders united against him in what one called an "avalanche" of opposition.

Rappe was quoted as saying in an interview with the newspaper Osnabruecker Zeitung: "The unions must be ready to negotiate over Sunday work for reasons of economics.

"I'd prefer to have businesses use their money to create jobs in the Federal Republic (West Germany) rather than in Spain or Greece. If that's only possible with more work on weekends, the unions can't simply say no."

Business representatives praised him. Klaus Murmann, head of the national management council, called Rappe's comments a "beneficial shot of realism."

Leaders of the printers, public workers, office workers, the mighty, 2.5-million-member steel workers union and some others didn't find his viewpoint beneficial in the least.

"Hermann Rappe's position was not and is not that of the printers union," spokeswoman Ulla Krause-Schaeuffler said. "He has set off an avalanche. We are currently in negotiations to block Sunday work."

Culture vs. Profits

Rainer Hillgaertner, spokesman for the public workers, said his union wants to keep Sunday work to a minimum because "the cultural value of having Sunday off ranks above the principle of maximizing profits."

Ernst Breit, head of the DGB labor federation, which has 7.7 million members, also has expressed public opposition to Sunday work.

Church leaders, worried about a drop in attendance, have been steadfast in their disapproval.

"We stand by our previous positions," Lutheran Church spokesman Peter Kollmar said, citing the importance "of the observance of the Lord's Day and the cultural role of Sunday."

The issue even united Roman Catholic and Lutheran prelates in 1984 long enough to issue a joint statement denouncing further expansion of Sunday work.

"The Bible teaches us: 'God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on that day he ceased from all the work he had set himself to do," the statement said in a citation from Genesis.

"Remember to keep the Sabbath day holy," the Christian leaders added, quoting from Exodus.

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