Sarkozy launches reform of 35-hour work week

1st July 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 30 (AFP) - France's centre-right government stepped up the pressure Wednesday to modify the country's 35-hour work week policy, put into place by the previous Socialist administration, to make it more flexible.

PARIS, June 30 (AFP) - France's centre-right government stepped up the pressure Wednesday to modify the country's 35-hour work week policy, put into place by the previous Socialist administration, to make it more flexible.

At a convention for small and mid-sized businesses, Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy called for a debate on the controversial work regime that would be free of political manoeuvring and ideological taboos.

"Simple reasoning is needed for such a sensitive question. If we think the 35 hours is positive, then it should be kept. But if we think, as I do, that it is very inconvenient, then launching a deep reform should not be feared," he said.

His comments came shortly after junior minister for the budget, Dominique Bussereau, said the government was considering ways to make the 35-hour work week more flexible, adding that he considered the regulation would slowly become "obsolete."

Sarkozy said reforms to the current policy should start by scrapping charges aimed at discouraging workers from doing overtime.

"I really don't know why we should penalise an entrepreneur who wants to give more work or an employee who wants to do more," he argued.

He also said the policy, which was the main project of the previous Socialist government when it was adopted in 1998, was costing France EUR 16 billion (USD 19.5 billion) per year.

The current government has cited the 35-hour week as one of the reasons for France's failure to keep its public deficit within EU limits - three percent of output - set out in the 1997 the Stability and Growth Pact.

Pressure to modify the 35-hour week has been building, with supporters of reform pointing to neighbouring Germany where several big companies such as DaimlerChrysler, Thomas Cook and Deutsche Bahn are negotiating a return to the 40-hour week.

German industrial conglomerate Siemens has even threatened to move some operations to lower-wage countries such as Hungary in negotiations to return a 40-hour work week.

The debate has also spread to Austria where big companies are also trying to reinstate a 40-hour work week.

In France the 35-hour week was designed to encourage employment by sharing out the existing work among more people, with companies compensated for their longer pay-rolls by more flexible rostering, lower social charges and a promise of wage restraint from unions.

However many economists say that while the reduction in working time yielded between 200,000 and 300,000 new jobs, many of these would have been created anyway as a result of the country's strong performance in the late 1990s.

At the moment, they contend, the measure is acting as a brake on growth.

In late 2002, Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin's majority in the National Assembly made the law more flexible by voting through an increase in the number of permissible overtime hours. But many centre-right deputies believe more action is required to undo the measure completely.

A recent survey last year in the business magazine L'Expansion found that 54 percent of French people believed France should abandon the 35-hour week, 52 percent thought it would gradually disappear and 67 percent said it had little effect on unemployment.

The government is under heavy pressure to take measures to lower France's stubbornly high unemployment rate, which currently stands at 9.8 percent of the workforce. 

© AFP

 

Subject: French news

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