France adopts contentious 35-hour work week reform

22nd March 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 22 (AFP) - The French parliament on Tuesday definitively approved a reform of the controversial 35-hour working week - a Socialist measure introduced to cut unemployment but which is blamed by the current government for doing the reverse.

PARIS, March 22 (AFP) - The French parliament on Tuesday definitively approved a reform of the controversial 35-hour working week - a Socialist measure introduced to cut unemployment but which is blamed by the current government for doing the reverse.

After its final reading before the right-dominated lower house, the National Assembly, the measure was voted through by 350 votes to 135. It will become law once the bill is published in the official gazette.

Under the reform, the standard working week will remain 35 hours, but staff in the private sector will be able to strike deals with management to work up to 13 hours of overtime.

Employees will also be encouraged to "sell back" the compensatory days off that they earn if they work more than 35 hours a week. Known as RTT days, these will be more easily convertible for salary or improved pension rights.

The centre-right government of President Jacques Chirac says the aim is to restore the work ethic in France and give people the right to "earn more by working more."

It points out that the change is not compulsory and does not apply at all to the large public sector.

However the Socialists - whose former labour minister Martine Aubry brought in the 35-hour week in 1998 - describe the reform as a "fool's bargain" and say it will in practice be impossible for employees to refuse if management asks for extra hours.

Last month more than 350,000 people demonstrated in cities across France against the government's changes.

Polls showed that 69 percent of the public support the 35-hour week, which has allowed many in the public sector and large companies to enjoy more time with their families or in recreation.

Opposition to the reform has fed into the climate of discontent which is a major factor behind the rise in the projected "no" vote in the May 29 referendum on the EU constitution.

Two polls in recent days showed the constitution being voted down.

For the left, the reduced working week was a mechanism for sharing out the nation's available labour among more people and thus bringing down unemployment - which did indeed fall during a period of strong economic growth until 2002.

But the government has the backing of business when it argues that the change has put up the cost of hiring staff, scared off international investors and is in fact helping sustain France's stubborn jobless rate of more than 10 percent.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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