Sarkozy champions change to 35-hour week

12th July 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, July 10 (AFP) - France's powerful Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy pressed Saturday for change in the controversial 35-hour week, in a wide-ranging interview seen as setting out his platform for a future presidential bid.

PARIS, July 10 (AFP) - France's powerful Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy pressed Saturday for change in the controversial 35-hour week, in a wide-ranging interview seen as setting out his platform for a future presidential bid.

In the interview in the daily Le Monde, Sarkozy said that employees should have the option of working longer hours if they want but pledged French workers would not be blackmailed into working longer hours.

A reform of the law "should be based on one principle: freedom of choice, permitting those who want to work longer earn more."

But he stressed that the choice should be entirely voluntary, and he assailed the German multinational Siemens for telling 2,500 workers in Germany that their jobs would be shifted to Hungary unless they agreed to increase their hours from 35 to almost 40 hours with no increase in pay.

Sarkozy said such "blackmail that would not be acceptable here."

The wide-ranging interview appeared to be an attempt by Sarkozy to mark out his political position four days before President Jacques Chirac was scheduled to address the nation in his traditional July 14 Bastille Day speech.

Sarkozy makes no secret of his ambition to succeed Chirac in 2007.

With the popularity of the centere-right government slumping, he has been speaking out publicly and repeatedly made apparent his impatience with Chirac's brand of politics - taking up clearly opposing positions on issues ranging from affirmative action for immigrants to relations with Germany.

Sarkozy, 49, who served for the first two years of the government as a successful interior minister, is highly popular among many deputies and activists in Chirac's Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) - who see him as the party's salvation after humiliating defeats at recent regional and European elections .

The finance minister has over the past few weeks made an issue of the 35-hour work week, introduced by the previous Socialist government, and is apparently trying to satisfy both its supporters and detractors.

Sarkozy said workers should be given the choice at the beginning of each year of working 35 hours per week, or opting for overtime.

"In acting thus, we are not placing an acquired benefit in doubt, but offering a choice in a society that lacks it," he said.

One of the biggest problems in the French economy is the lack of purchasing power of salaried workers, he said, so it makes sense to give employees the chance to earn more.

The previous government brought in the 35-hour week to create more jobs but also to shake up hidebound labour practices by giving companies more flexibility about scheduling work. At the same time, workers had to curb pay demands.

Most French workers have become used to the concept, and some companies say the shorter working week has enabled them to reorganize and achieve higher productivity, but there is widespread support for introducing more flexibility into the law which the government says is costing the economy EUR 16 billion (USD 19.2 billion) a year.

With unemployment stuck near 10 percent, the minister said taxes and social charges should be lowered for companies that relocate their activities to areas that have more than 20 or 30 percent joblessness.

But Sarkozy opposes an overall tax cut as called for by Chirac, saying any increase in revenues as France's economy rebounds should by used to repay the country's debt;

Weighing in on gay marriage, a question which has risen to forefront of political debate since a mayor defied the central government to marry a homosexual couple last month, Sarzozy said he opposed gay marriage because it automatically conferred the right to adoption.

However, the minister said he supported improvements to France's civil union law which confers some but not all the benefits of marriage.

 

© AFP

 

Subject: French news

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