French Senate to decide on 35-hour work week
The French parliament will decide if Sarkozy’s plan to end the de facto 35-hour working week should be adopted.24 July 2008
PARIS - The French parliament was set Wednesday to adopt a major economic reform promised by President Nicolas Sarkozy, which amounts to a de facto end to the country's much disputed 35-hour working week.
The senators have already adopted other key reforms which change rules on strikes, tighten criteria for unemployment payments, and free up the economy with plans aimed at bringing down the cost of living by boosting competition.
The measures were approved by the National Assembly lower house earlier in July and will become law with the backing of the Senate, where Sarkozy's right-wing UMP party has a majority.
The reform most contested by the opposition Socialists and by trades unions is the move to let companies ditch the 35-hour work week, a measure brought in by a Socialist government 10 years ago and denounced by conservatives as a drag on France's competitivity.
The future law would maintain the working week at 35 hours but give businesses the right to negotiate directly with employees to decide their working hours.
The 35-hour week was aimed at cutting unemployment and the French statistics institute INSEE said it created 350,000 new jobs between 1998 and 2002, but at the cost of billions of euros in state aid to companies.
Public opinion polls show the French still view the 35-hour work week as a progressive measure that they do not want to part with.
The bill concerning the unemployed which passed the Senate Wednesday night obliges jobseekers to accept the third "reasonable" job offer made to them, failing which their unemployment benefits would be stopped.
Another controversial measure approved by senators forces schools to look after children in school premises when teachers are on strike. It also obliges workers to hold "preliminary negotiations" with employers before launching strike action.
Critics say the law undermines the right to strike.
Sarkozy announced the proposed reform on 15 May, the day of national education mobilisation to protest against cutting 11,200 positions at the start of the next school term.
An economic bill approved by the Senate is dubbed the Law on the Modernisation of the Economy (LME), which has a series of measures to boost economic growth and purchasing power while curbing inflation and keeping state costs to a minimum.
Economy Minister Christine Lagarde said the LME could help boost purchasing power by a possible "EUR 1,000 per year and per household starting in 2009".
The government also hopes the reform will create 50,000 jobs by the end of next year and increase economic growth by 0.3 percentage points each year.
[AFP / Expatica]
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