Sarkozy sparks row over scrapping of 35 hour week

9th January 2008, Comments 0 comments

Nicolas Sarkozy said he wants to see the end of the 35-hour week this year

PARIS, January 8, 2008  - French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Tuesday he
wants to see the end of the 35-hour week this year, sparking a storm of
protests from labour groups and cheers from supporters who see it as one of
the worst policy mistakes of the past 25 years.
   Asked at a New Year press conference if he wanted the 35-hour working week
to be dispensed of this year, Sarkozy said: "To say what I really think, then
   The president did not comment further.
   The 35-hour week, introduced in the 1990s by a Socialist government as a
means of helping reduce unemployment, has become a hot-button issue for the
president who has pledged far reaching reforms of France's labour and social
welfare system.
   Picking up on Sarkozy's comments later Tuesday as charges and counter
charges flew, Prime Minister Francois Fillon said the 35-hour week "was one of
the worst economic and social mistakes made in France in ... the past 25
   The president had called on the government through his comments "to press
ahead with reform of the workplace so that this folly of the 35 hours can be
finally got rid of", Fillon told the National Assembly.
   The premier said Sarkozy had set the course for 2008, "planning to press
ahead with getting our country into line with changes in the world, changes
which we have for so long refused to recognise".
   Sarkozy and Fillon's comments were welcomed in parliament by the governing
right-wing Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) and equally deplored by the
Socialist party, which claimed the president was seeking to undo all
provisions on legal working hours, not just the 35-hour week.
   The CFDT, one of the main French trade unions, said Sarkozy's remarks were
in total contradiction with his previous comments on the issue and seemed to
be part and parcel of an ideologically inspired attack rather than economic
   The CFDT insisted that any discussions on working conditions "should take
place while respecting the 35 hour (week)".
   Sarkozy defeated Socialist candidate Segolene Royale to win the presidency
last year with a pledge to reform and modernise a France that many felt had
lagged economic progress elsewhere, largely due to the burden of its generous
social welfare system.
   After an uneasy truce, unions launched a crippling series of strikes in
November against the president's reform package, especially changes to pension
entitlements on the national railways.
   After the country's longest train strike since 1995, the government
insisted that it had held firm on its central aim of increasing railway
workers' retirement age in line with the rest of the population.
   "I promised this reform and I kept my word," Sarkozy said at the time.

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