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The 35-hour working week is a measure adopted first in France, in February 2000, under Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's Plural Left government; it was pushed by then Minister of Labour Martine Aubry. The previous legal duration of the workweek was 39 hours, which had been established by François Mitterrand, also a member of the Socialist Party. The 35-hour working week was already in the Socialist Party's 1981 electoral program, titled 110 Propositions for France.

The 35 hours was the legal standard limit, after which further working time was to be considered overtime. The law has since been substantially weakened and exceptions have become established.

Contents

Rationale

(See working time for further discussion of the health and leisure-related reasons for limited work weeks.)

The main stated objectives of the law were two-fold:

  • To reduce unemployment and yield a better division of labor, in a context where some people work long hours while some others are unemployed. A 10.2% decrease in the hours extracted from each worker would, theoretically, require firms to hire correspondingly more workers, a remedy for unemployment.
  • To take advantage of improvements in productivity of modern society to give workers some more personal time to enhance quality of life.

Another reason was that the Jospin administration took advantage of the changes introduced with the 35-hour working week to relax other workforce legislation.

Criticism

The 35-hour working week is highly controversial in France. Generally speaking, left wing parties and labour unions support it, while conservative parties and the MEDEF employers' union oppose it. Critics of the 35-hour workweek have argued that it has failed to serve its purpose because an increase in recruitment has not occurred. According to them, firms, being stubborn against hiring new workers, have instead simply increased per-hour production quotas. According to right-wing parties and economic commentators, French firms avoid hiring new workers in general because French work force regulations make it difficult to lay off workers during a poor economic period (see New Employment Contract and First Employment Contract laws passed in 2005 and 2006 by Villepin's administration).

Amendments to the law

The Raffarin administration, some members of which were vocal critics of the law, has gradually pushed for further relaxation of the legal working time requirements. On December 22, 2004, the French Parliament extended the maximum number of overtime hours per year from 180 to 220; on March 31, 2005, another law extended the possibilities of overtime hours.

In 2007, the president Nicolas Sarkozy introduced fiscal reduction for overtime hours ("loi TEPA").

See also

References

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