The End of the 35-hour Work Week in France?
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French politicians from across the political spectrum are debating whether or not to change the law on the 35-hour work week even though most people work longer than that. Whether or not it happens, there will be heated discourse.
Ask someone outside of France what they think of French workers, and the majority of the responses will most likely involve strikes, protests and perhaps some “bossnappings”. This satirical article is just an example.
But, another aspect is the 35-hour work week that became law in 2000 during the presidency of Jacques Chirac and the government of Socialist Lionel Jospin (Prime Minister at the time). Proposed by Martine Aubry (current Socialist Party head, Lille Mayor and potential 2012 presidential candidate), the idea is based on the belief that by decreasing the number of hours worked, there would be more room for new hires.
Although France has one of the most productive workforces in the world, its competiveness as a place to do business is less than stellar. (There is an interesting comparison between France and the US here). It has had mixed results.
This could be explained by several factors (also depending on political opinion and sources), but certainly the 35-hour work week could be considered as a divisive issue. One of the most remarkable calls for its repeal came from Socialist Manuel Valls, who France 24 (in an excellent article) rightly calls “a maverick”.
This has lead to loud criticism of him in his party for going against the grain and criticizing a staple policy from when Socialists held governing powers. Valls thinks the policy undermines French competitiveness in the world economy.
Now the conservative UMP party (that of President Nicolas Sarkozy) has called for a debate on the 35-hour work week. But Sarkozy so far has refused repealing it in the short-term.
This topic will certainly be contested during the next year until the 2012 elections. Stay tuned for the news.
Michael Barrett is a communications consultant, freelance translator and English teacher. He writes a must-read blog for expats called American Expat In France.
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