French minister slams Siemens "blackmail"

19th July 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, July 19 (AFP) - French junior budget minister Dominique Bussereau attacked on Monday an agreement by the German group Siemens to increase working hours at two factories to avert relocation as "blackmail" which would not be permitted in France.

PARIS, July 19 (AFP) - French junior budget minister Dominique Bussereau attacked on Monday an agreement by the German group Siemens to increase working hours at two factories to avert relocation as "blackmail" which would not be permitted in France.  

In Germany, Siemens recently reached an agreement with unions to increase the number of hours worked at two factories to 40 hours per week and undertook in return not to move jobs abroad.  

The working week in Germany varies from sector to sector but averages about 37.7 hours.  

In France the standard legal working week is 35 hours, reduced from 39 hours hours under a controversial plan by the previous socialist government to spread jobs around and reduce unemployment.  

Bussereau, a member of a centre-right government which has been sceptical of the 35-hour-week and is sending signals that people should have flexibility to negotiate longer hours, told French radio France Inter that the agreement at the two Siemens factories amounted to "rather frightening blackmail" which the French government would not permit.  

His remarks come against a background of growing controversy in Germany and France over arguments that cuts in working hours have gone too far.  

The issue has caused some friction between the two countries. Last week Germany showed irritation after Bussereau's superior, Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, had also used the word "blackmail" in the same context.  

The French government, having suffered severe election setbacks over reforms recently, is anxious to demonstrate that it understands electors' worries about such issues as the switching of jobs abroad.  

Bussereau referred to two groups in France, Bosch, a subsidiary of the German machine-tool group of the same name, and Doux, a leading chicken producer, which want to increase working hours.  

He said that "if it it is a matter of companies or sectors ... the government allows employees and their management work it out together.  

"What we must not have is what is happening in Germany, for example, at Siemens, where the management says 'accept this or we'll push off, we'll close the factory and go somewhere in eastern Europe'; naturally that is unacceptable and the government would not allow this to happen."  

He added: "We are well aware of the structural problems facing German industry. It is true that the German economy is suffering deeply and must make enormous efforts, but I find, without interfering in the affairs of our German neighbours, that this type of agreement is very hard all the same and comes down very hard on the employees."  

He said that such measures "are not at all in the spirit of what the president of the republic (Jacques Chirac) and prime minister (Jean-Pierre Raffarin) want to do in our country".

 

© AFP

 

Subject: French news

 

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