NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

ADIEU FRENCH LEISURE CULTURE

March 24, 2005

The French parliament adopted government reforms on Tuesday that will allow employees to work longer hours, despite fierce opposition by trade unions who say it spells the end of the 35-hour working week.

The changes will allow workers to increase overtime and work up to 48 hours a week if they want -- the maximum allowed by the European Union. Labor unions and the Socialist opposition have bitterly opposed the changes and brought several hundred thousand people out onto the streets in recent weeks in protest.

  • The Socialists cut the working week from 39 hours in 1998 to try to reduce high unemployment, but employers' groups, the main driver behind the reform, complained that without an equivalent cut in pay, companies simply became less competitive.
  • The government says the increased flexibility will be good for companies, pay packets, jobs and the economy.
  • Some French workers want to work longer to increase their pay and, like some workers in Germany, agreed last year to work longer hours in an effort to save their jobs.
  • But the trade unions say workers will be forced to work longer hours for no extra pay and that the changes will in effect dismantle the 35-hour working week.

Labor organizations say France's unemployment rate of more than 10 percent, much higher than the average in the euro zone, gives employers the chance to increase hours with no extra pay.

An opinion poll last month showed 56 percent of French workers, and 43 percent of French people in general, opposed the government plans to relax the rules on the working week. The poll showed 36 percent of workers and 46 percent of French people in general were in favor of the proposed changes.

Source: Reuters, "French decide to get back to work: Leisure time is too expensive for society, Parliament determines, So it's adieu to the 35-hour week," CNN.com, March 22, 2005.

 

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