France to reassess work week

As the French economy slips closer towards recession with unemployment rising, and a deficit that has antagonised Brussels, government officials are directing their blame at the 35-hour work week.

    France may increase work week to comply with EU deficit rules

    The 35-hour week was introduced by left-wing former prime minister Lionel Jospin five years ago with a vision of creating a society with lower unemployment and greater leisure time.

    But France’s centre-right government is becoming increasingly frustrated with the law they inherited after ousting the Socialist from power 18 months ago.

    On Friday, centre-right reformer Herve Novelli demanded a parliamentary inquiry into the economic effects of the cut in the working week.

    "Everybody, for the most part, finds the effects of the 35-hour week to be disastrous, including the labour minister," UMP party member Novelli told Friday's Le Figaro newspaper.

    "A full assessment, in precise figures, of the 35-hour week has not been done. So let's seize the problem and look for an economically and socially viable solution."

    "A full assessment, in precise figures, of the 35-hour week has not been done. So let's seize the problem and look for an economically and socially viable solution."

    Herve Novelli
    UMP Party member

    Numbers may be working in the government’s favour as 9.6% of people are unemployed and as wage freezes have become the norm. A recent survey shows that 36% of the French want the 35-hour week abandoned while 18% want it suspended.

    Some are also blaming current labour laws for the low staff numbers in hospitals in August – which contributed to the 15,000 heat-wave deaths.

    10 billion euro law

    On Friday, Finance Minister Francis Mer told an investment forum that the measure was costing the country at least 10 billion euros a year.

    Budget Minister Alain Lambert said on Thursday that without the 35-hour week France's budget deficit would probably have been below the EU's ceiling of three percent of gross domestic  product.

    Failure to meet the target has set Paris at odds with Brussels.

    Supporters of the work week say it preserved or created up to 450,000 jobs, but economists say any job creation was artificial and state funded, and any genuine new hiring was due to economic growth.

    Unions warn they would oppose any changes to 35-hour week accords with companies, which have handed many employees extra holidays in exchange for the hours they work over 35.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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