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Bonjour Paris: end of French 35 hour work week?

This week’s Bonjour Paris features an article by me. Check out Bonjour Paris, a great resource.

The End of the 35-hour Work Week in France?
By Michael Barrett

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.

  1. January 17th, 2011 at 01:12 | #1

    Interesting article, Thanks! Think useful to note that when I was legally living and working in France, 2005-2008, tho I did work often overtime (more than 35 hours) I was well paid for it.

    Questions:
    Do workers in France still get extra pay for overtime?
    If so, what is the need to repeal the law?

    Olga Kovshanova, MBA, MA
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    • January 17th, 2011 at 09:07 | #2

      Hi Olga,

      Thanks for writing. When you talk about getting paid for overtime, it depends on the agreement you sign with your employer and is also linked to extra days leave, RTT (réduction du temps de travail), which as you know means that for overtime you can count some towards extra days off work. Because many argue that these policies cost companies money, they say it’s bad for employment (with more money, more resources to hire..). What some politicians are starting to propose is work week consisting of a higher minimum amount of hours, say 39. One would have to wait and see what happens, but I imagine some form of overtime pay or RTT would remain, albeit with a higher threshold of hours. What was your experience working in France? What percentage extra were you paid for overtime (normally at least 10% extra per overtime hour), and you had RTT as well I assume?

      Thanks!
      Michael

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