French MPs vote to extend working week

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The Independent Online

The long vacations and 35-hour weeks French workers enjoy could be falling by the wayside. After a vitriolic debate, MPs approved a Bill yesterday that would allow employees to work longer hours.

The long vacations and 35-hour weeks French workers enjoy could be falling by the wayside. After a vitriolic debate, MPs approved a Bill yesterday that would allow employees to work longer hours.

France's lower house of parliament voted 370-180 to permit private-sector employees to work up to 48 hours each week - the European Union limit.

The measure now goes to the Senate early next month. There is likely to be little problem in getting it passed. President Jacques Chirac's conservatives, which are pushing for the changes, control both houses of parliament. Supporters say the reform would reduce the burden for companies and state finances, and allow workers to earn more money. M. Chirac has criticised the 35-hour week as a "brake" on economic development and job creation.

The new measure would not formally dismantle the 35-hour week but would make it more flexible by giving workers the option of working more - on a voluntary basis.

The 35-hour week was put in place between 1998 and 2000 by the previous Socialist government.

"Never since 1936 has a government intervened to prolong the time at work," said the Communist MP Maxime Gremetz. The vote went ahead despite stalling tactics by the Socialist-led opposition and a campaign of protests against the bill. The Socialists floated new amendments, issued calls to order and demanded strict observance of time limits on debates to force a delay in the vote.

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