French workers to battle for 35-hour week

30th January 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Jan 30 (AFP) - The French are readying for a fight to keep their 35-hour week, with a survey published Sunday showing nearly four out of five employees opposed plans by President Jacques Chirac's conservative government to make them work more.

PARIS, Jan 30 (AFP) - The French are readying for a fight to keep their 35-hour week, with a survey published Sunday showing nearly four out of five employees opposed plans by President Jacques Chirac's conservative government to make them work more.

The parliament will start debate Tuesday on a bill put forward by the ruling UMP party to water down the law covering the short work week, which came into force in 2000 under the previous Socialist administration.

But the measures envisaged, including making it easier to impose overtime and allowing small companies to maintain longer hours, are viewed by much of the public as a back-door attempt to bury the popular 35-hour week law.

Next Saturday, hundreds of thousands of public and private sector workers are to take to the streets to protest the government's proposed changes.

They are backed by four of the five biggest French unions, which say the reform would result in workers putting in longer hours without extra pay.

A poll by the Ifop institute published in Sunday's Journal du Dimanche newspaper showed that 77 percent of employees want to keep working an average of only seven hours a day.

Eighteen percent were willing to increase their hours for more money, the survey said. Five percent of the 489 workers questioned did not respond.

Critics of the 35-hour work week, including French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and his government, say it has failed to achieve the objective of creating jobs by forcing short-staffed employers to hire more workers.

They point at the chronic unemployment rate of 9.9 percent as proof and say that France's economy - the fourth biggest in the world after the United States, Japan and Germany - would be more competitive if workers were able to work up to a maximum 48 hours per week.

Bosses say they are unwilling to hire new employees because rigid labour laws make it difficult to fire staff when circumstances change.

But supporters say the reduction from the 39-hour week that was the previous norm has made a happier workforce - the French, for each hour worked, are more productive than Americans who work an average of 40 hours, and Britons who work 37 hours - and allowed families to spend more time together.

It is, perhaps, in part thanks to the more free time that France, population 62 million, also boasts the second-highest fertility rate in the European Union, after Ireland.

Chirac and Raffarin have given no sign of backing down, however, and have already braved a recent series of strikes protesting their liberalisation programme and budget restrictions.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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