Jacques Brinon, Pool/AP
French President Nicolas Sarkozy

France Allows Longer Workweek, Drawing Fire and Praise

July 28, 2008 05:32 PM
by Shannon Firth
France’s conservatives are celebrating and believe the country can now fulfill one of President Sarkozy’s key campaign slogans: “work more to earn more.”

30-Second Summary

Elected on a campaign platform of economic stimulation, French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s rejection of the country’s “imposed 35-hour week” was not a surprise; still, not everyone welcomes his reforms.

The 35-hour workweek was adopted in 1998 to attack the country’s unemployment problem. Indeed, with fewer working hours per employee, employers were compelled to hire 350,000 more workers. Yet Sarkozy condemned the idea and other elements of the socialist agenda as destructive.

The reform means that the “reference week” will stay at 35-hours, but the law now enables individual businesses to negotiate the length of the workweek with its unions and end compensatory vacation days for overtime, offering overtime pay instead.

White-collar unionists protested the decision in Paris this week. The Scotsman explains why executives stand to lose the most from the reforms: “Under the old rules, employees who worked overtime were able to exchange the extra hours worked for days off. … Mr Sarkozy’s determination to extend the working week spells the end of all those long weekends for the country’s managers.”

According to the Economist, strikes are a French tradition and unions have “an entrenched official role on company works councils and in industry-wide collective bargaining.” But the union protest against Sarkozy, thanks to careful strategizing, “has lost its edge.” cited the insignificance of reforms, predicting that they will take time to enforce and “will have limited impact.”

Headline Link: Ending the 35-hour workweek

Background: France’s 35-hour workweek explained

Opinion & Analysis: What does a longer workweek mean for France?

Key Player: Nicolas Sarkozy

Related Topic: ‘France’s Antiterrorist Tactics Questioned’


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