The French working week: It's Thursday - and the weekend starts here

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France's experiment with a state-imposed, shorter working week has transformed the country's rigid social patterns.

France's experiment with a state-imposed, shorter working week has transformed the country's rigid social patterns.

Weekends now start on Thursdays or end on Tuesdays. Many working mothers choose to stay at home on Wednesdays, when French children are traditionally off school.

Two-thirds of those who have shifted to a mandatory 35-hour week with no reduction in pay in the last two years say it has improved their lives.

An official report last year said the mandatory 35-hour week, and its voluntary predecessor, had created 285,000 new jobs in five years. By the time the law applies fully to smaller companies next year it should have created 500,000 jobs, the report by Le Plan, the French state's strategic planning body, said.

However, attempts to introduce the 35-hour week in the public sector – especially in the health service – have caused enormous strains on budgets and manpower.

Some business leaders acknowledge that negotiations on reducing working time have permitted companies to scrape away years of restrictive practices.

But others point out that the government has, in effect, been "buying" new jobs by subsidising employers through reduced social charges. The cost is officially estimated at £4,600 per year per job.

Economists might argue that more jobs might have been created by reducing taxes on business – or building more TGV lines.

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