35-Hour Work Week Becomes Law

photo: metro jussieu

There are always a lot of students near métro Jussieu.

Is Your Fridge Poisoned?

Paris:- Sunday, 16. January 2000:- On Friday, France's Constitutional Council gave the green light to the government's proposal to make the 35-hour work week the law of the land. This will permit the law to go into effect on Tuesday, 1. February.

However, the Constitutional Council did not give the project a grade of 'A.' It has required the government to reformulate four 'minor' elements, one of which could be tricky.

This is too complicated for me to understand - so it is enough to say that the measure will become law in France, with only a month's delay from the target date of 1. January.

Only 26,000 enterprises have signed up for the deal, still leaving companies employing 80 percent of French workers to get in line.

A government proposal to levy a surtax of 10 percent on overtime - which was destined tophoto: soldes, corsets de paris lower the cost of social charges paid by employers, was rejected by the Constitutional Council. The report doesn't say who was going to pay this tax - which means trying to understand it difficult.

The winter sales started yesterday - even for smaller shops.

One of the big wrangles has been about the minimum wage - called the 'SMIC' in France. In effect, by cutting the work-week by four hours while keeping the same level for the 'SMIC,' it would have amounted to a raise - who was to pay for this became a stumbling block.

Government minister Martine Aubry, author of the bill, was happy with the result. Oddly, so was the employer's association, which thinks the re-write of the four items, is a government defeat.

Union spokesmen applauded the new law, with reservations. In fact, everybody has reservations except Martine Aubry. Cutting the official work week from 39 hours to 35 is a big change, with many consequences for everybody.

As is normal in France, the whole law is riddled with 'exceptions.' Thirty-five hours is easy to remember, but all of its details remain hazy - to me.

The purpose of the law is supposed to be 'social' as well as reduce unemployment But it may perversely strengthen the trend to part-time work for part-time pay - thus forcing many to take multiple jobs.

How people can be expected to do this when the unemployment rate is about 10 percent, remains another mystery. The end effect may be to institute the minimum wage - of about $1000 a month - as the de facto standard wage.

The truck drivers in the following item are a good example of the headaches the new law will cause. Most long-haul truck drivers get the minimum wage as a base salary and make their real money with overtime.

The Trucker's 35-Hour Work Week

Many mid- and high-level civil servants work more than the legal 39 hours, which is a lot more than the coming 'legal' 35 hours. This means that if the government itself is going to conform to its own laws, it is going to have to do a bit of 'arranging' with its employees.

Private enterprise is wrestling with the same problem. Managers work even more than civil servants. Overall, some firms have successfully adopted the measure of the 35-hour work week. One sector hasn't - the trucking industry.

On Monday and Tuesday, trucking firm owners ordered their drivers to blockade all of France's frontiers - to protest against the 35-hour law and a hike in the price of diesel fuel on Tuesday.

Some 2000 big French trucks blocked entry in France to truckers from all surrounding countries with about 50 roadblocks. They also blockaded seaports.

The action was continued Tuesday because there was no 'sign' from the government, other than the transport minister saying his 'door was open.'

British truck owners appealed to the French government to reestablish 'free circulation.'The European Community also asked the government to 'explain' what it was doing to assure freephoto: velosolex circulation, giving a two-day time limit for the answer.

Earlier, spokesmen for the trucking operators said their action would be largely symbolic - largely to alert the government to the peculiarities of road-haul operations in Europe.

A Vélosolex, midway between a bicycle and a power-mower.

Almost as if programmed, the trucking operators reached an agreement with the government on Wednesday and the blockades disappeared on Thursday.

Banking Employees Get Sweet-and-Sour Deal

In the banking sector, an agreement was reached after 18 months of negotiations, between employers and unions representing employees, for a new industry-wide contract. The old one, based on a 1952 model, expired at the end of last year.

Banking employees have enjoyed special perks that are uncommon for most workers. Their employers, facing the 35-hour week law and 'globalization,' wanted to see deep cuts, or even elimination of the notion of the old contract. In the end, both sides won some and lost some.

Our Secret Fat Cats

France's civil service does not know how many people work for it. It doesn't even know how much it pays some of them. This was reported by the budget watchdog - the 'Cour des Comptes' - on Monday, for the first time in half a century.

The 500 page report, presented by Pierre Joxe, president of the 'Cour,' basically says the state bases salaries on a system of voodoo; unequal and transparent as mud. In fact, this situation was reported earlier, in 1983, but the report was 'filed' on a dusty shelf.

The present salary system, created after the war - to be equal and transparent - has suffered from all the 'exceptions' added to it in layers, and time has cemented them into common usage.

There are a little less than 300,000 budgeted administrative civil servants. The Assembly National voted to reduce the numbers by nearly 50,000 from 1995 to 1998, but there was an actual increase of 24,000. This new 'Cour des Comptes' report estimates that 340,000 are on the government payroll.

This includes government CNRS researchers, but not postalemployees.

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