PARIS -- French President Jacques Chirac gave his backing Monday for moves to water down the country's 35-hour workweek, setting the stage for a showdown with France's powerful trade unions.
Speaking to reporters, Chirac said employers and labor groups could be asked to agree on "legal changes" to the rules on working time put in place under the last Socialist government.
"I've never been convinced of the positive effect of the 35-hour week," Chirac said. "I feel it's been a brake on economic development and therefore a brake on overall employment."
Chirac's comments came amid growing pressure for change from his own outspoken finance minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as from industry leaders such as Edouard Michelin, head of French tire giant Michelin Group.
Since its heavy defeat in March regional elections, the conservative government had resisted calls from employers and from within its own party ranks for moves to scrap or reform the 35-hour workweek enjoyed by French workers below middle-management level.
The law was introduced by the Socialist-led government of former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin as a way of creating jobs, but some employers and right-wing politicians say it has done more harm than good to the economy.
Chirac's remarks, made during the official opening of a new school for chefs and mechanics outside Paris, offer the clearest sign yet that the government hopes to rein in the working time law.
In an interview published Monday by newspaper Le Figaro, Sarkozy said he wanted to give workers the choice between keeping their 35-hour week and current pay or putting in more time for higher salaries.
"For part of the population, the 35-hour week is a social right, and I understand that," he said. "But why force everyone to march at the same pace?"
Sarkozy said the law would soon cost the state euro16 billion ($19 billion) a year in social charge cuts promised to companies that implement it.
Sarkozy's stance puts him on collision course with the trade unions, which are already planning strikes over the imminent privatization of power utility Electricite de France as well as planned changes to unemployment benefits and public health insurance.
"For the moment we're making our own proposals," said Maryse Dumas, the No. 2 official at France's CGT union. But if the government persists, she said, "then obviously we'll take action."
Dumas dismissed as a ruse the offer of more choice for individual workers. "It's not workers that choose their working hours, it's their bosses," she said.
The CGT and Force Ouvriere unions - which together command a strong following in transportation, power, municipal services and other strike-sensitive sectors - want the 35-hour week extended to cover more, not fewer employees.
About half the work force is excluded, they say, after the government passed a law early this year adding flexibility for the smallest employers.
After the regional election defeat, President Chirac had signaled a softening of the government's social policy while Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin ruled out any changes to the 35-hour workweek.
But Sarkozy, who has made clear his ambition to run for president in 2007, seized the initiative two weeks ago by reopening a debate on what he called the "financially disastrous" working time law.
Contradicting Raffarin - and implicitly also Chirac - Sarkozy insisted that "at least the problem should be put to the French people."
His comments found favor with French employers, the conservatives' most powerful allies. In a speech Sunday, Michelin CEO Edouard Michelin said the 35-hour law contributed to a "labor cost deterrent" that scares investors away from France.
"In 59th place worldwide for the average number of hours worked annually, France is can be neither proud nor competitive," Michelin said.
Farley and Belushi are taken away in their prime yet Moore's heart continues to pump bacon grease in and out. God has a brutal sense of humor sometimes.- Barbwire Mike
The only issue with those items are things like Quality of the Workers lives as this can have a direct health effect and therefore effect the cost of Health Care. If an employer makes an employee work long hours, it begins to wear out the employees. Which in turn affects the employee's quality of life. Or just call it stress.
There is a whole study on Intangible Benefits that can help the employee and the employer to increase a company's bottom line. Intangible benefits increase loyalty, productivity, morale, and over all health and happiness.
Personally, I've noticed that most of the successful people I know work long hours...Not so much because they have to, more so because they want to. It creates a cycle. The employer treats the employee well, the employee is willing to work hard and long, productivity goes up, employer notices, promotes said employee, lather, rinse, repeat.
edit: damn links...grrr...
(edited by ThreepMe on 19.5.04 0655) "Are you kidding me? A soda with MY name on it? Now more than ever, SODAS RULE!" - Edge to Christian Smackdown Sept 7th 2000
Originally posted by Grimis"I've never been convinced of the positive effect of the 35-hour week," Chirac said. "I feel it's been a brake on economic development and therefore a brake on overall employment."
What a shock...who would have ever seen that coming?
Originally posted by ThreepMeThere is a whole study on Intangible Benefits that can help the employee and the employer to increase a company's bottom line. Intangible benefits increase loyalty, productivity, morale, and over all health and happiness.
What that ignores, though, is the fact that without laws the employer can control how much the employee works. If there is evidence that working the employee less generates a net gain in productivity the company will simply opt to give their workers an extra five hours off per week of their own free will.
This law is absurd; nothing more than the government forcing employers to pay workers more than they are worth. It throws the whole economic system out of whack. While I'm certainly not a Chirac fan, gotta give him credit for taking steps to fix this. Hopefully he'll tell big labour what it's opinion is really worth and get rid of this law entirely.
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Is it wrong to say I find this whole thing really funny? If she made this up, she did a great job of it. The only thing missing is a "spin" reference. "Come on. Come on. This is the no-spin zone. Was that good for you? Well? Was it?"