France split over virtues of 35-hour week
Wednesday 02 February 2005
Trade unions and left-wing parties have called a day of protest on Saturday - including marches in most big cities - to resist attempts by the centre- right government to relax the laws that enforce the shortest statutory working week in Europe.
The changes - which would allow workers to take more paid overtime and to trade in rest days for cash - would reform, rather than abolish, the 35-hour week imposed by the previous, Socialist-led government.
Both left and right shamelessly exaggerated the scope of the measures in yesterday's preliminary debate, presumably in an attempt to play to the electoral gallery. In the real world, however, attitudes to the 35- hour week cut across the expected boundaries of class and politics.
Recent opinion polls and surveys suggest the shorter week remains immensely popular with white-collar workers in the private sector (who mostly vote to the right). It has always been and remains, unpopular with factory and blue-collar workers, who usually vote to the left.
In strict constituency terms, right and left wing members of parliament lined up on the wrong side of the debate yesterday. The debate, however, has always been more about theory and ideology than reality.
Supporters of the government said the reforms would allow employees to "work more and earn more".
Left-wing politicians said the changes would "strike the death knell" of the shorter working week, which was the centrepiece of the job-creation efforts of the previous government. The 35-hour law, they said, had become part of the "social status quo" in France. Any attempt to reform it would be an act of "social regression" which would be resisted, in parliament and on the streets.
In truth, calls by unions and the most economically liberal-minded politicians for a radical reform or abolition of the 35-hour week have been stoutly resisted by President Jacques Chirac and the Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin. The measures introduced yesterday - and likely to be approved by the national assembly next week - invite employers and unions to negotiate more flexible arrangements if both sides wish to do so. Maximum overtime, already lifted by another reform two years ago, would be increased. Rest times "saved up" by employees could be traded in for cash, rather than extra days off.
Complex debate still rages on whether the original 35-hour law, introduced by the government of Lionel Jospin, was succesful. Left-wing politicians and economists say that the law helped to create jobs and broke down many archaic work practices in France.
On the right wing, the 35-hour week is seen as another layer of bureaucratic interference in the market and a signal to young people that leisure is more important than work.
When the law was passed, it was attacked by the far left as a smokescreen and a swindle. Seven years later, the same far-left parties and politicians defend the 35-hour law as a cornerstone of workers' rights.
- 2 The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
- 3 #FreeTheNipple: Women in Iceland bare breasts in solidarity with trolled student
- 4 Scientists have discovered a simple way to cook rice that dramatically cuts the calories
Germanwings captain Patrick Sondenheimer tried to break into locked cockpit door 'with an axe' as plane was descending
Amanda Knox murder conviction: Italian court overturns verdict for US student and Raffaele Sollecito in the killing of Meredith Kercher
Saudi Arabia says it won't rule out building nuclear weapons
The battle for the Middle East's future begins in Yemen as Saudi Arabia jumps into the abyss
#FreeTheNipple: Women in Iceland bare breasts in solidarity with trolled student
Nigel Farage brands LGBT activists 'filth' and 'scum' and accuses them of scaring away his children after they invade his local pub
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Russia threatens Denmark with nuclear weapons if it tries to join Nato defence shield
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Germanwings plane crash live: Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz wanted to 'do something people would remember him for'
£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...
£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...