The 35-Hour Week Fiasco

photo: cafe terrace, champs elysees

Visitors and residents dining 'al fresco' on the Champs-Elysées.

And a Poulet In Every Pot

Paris:- Monday, 14. May 2001:- Charles 'Lower Taxes' Eitel likes to tell new club members how France is going to become an economic basket case because of the 35-hour work week. He lives here, in a sort of paradise, and he thinks it doesn't work even if he enjoys it.

Even if it is about not working, it seems to be advantageous to everybody who does work for an employer who has adopted the 'reduced working time,' or 'RTT' as Le Parisien calls it.

Not all employers have adopted the new work rule yet and the transition is a bit bumpy at times. The Culture Ministry, as the employer of all the people working in national museums and monuments, has yet to reach agreements with its unions and their members.

But with employers who have, some workers have the option of taking the reduced work week all at once, in the form of longer vacations. But most get the free time in the form of a shorter work-week, with either a half day or a whole day off.

The Ministry of Employment estimates the measure has created 287,000 new jobs, to go along with the 5.8 million workers enjoying the 35-hour work week. On average, the measure affords 16 extra days of holiday a year.

In principle Charles is right. France can'tphoto: palm, pantheon, luxembourg afford this. Taxpayers here are being squeezed to pulp by the Ministry of Finance, which is much more efficient than it was in the days of Louis XIV.

Some few Parisians taking advantage of their 35-hour work week on Tuesday.

If you hire somebody in France and pay them, say, 1000 francs a month - then you have to pay another 600 francs in taxes, social charges and incidentals. Out of the '1000 franc salary,' the employee pays a fair share too.

On top of income taxes, all consumers pay value-added tax on everything they buy. The high rate is nearly 20 percent, and very little is available at the lower rate of 5.5 percent. The government gets the majority of its revenue from this consumption tax - which varies as a percentage but is common throughout Europe.

Therefore, according to Charles, nobody has any ready money handy for taking advantage of the 35-hour work week.

When polled, the majority of working men say that they use their extra spare time to carry out do-it-yourself projects around their households. On one hand they improve the value of their accommodations and on the other they spend money on tools and materials.

Lady employees say they have time for more shopping, which is handy if they have to do it with less money. Even though there are more people shopping they are being careful and this holds down prices.

Visiting France is expensive, because it is like going to an amusement park where you are supposed to eat all the time that you are not spending money to go on rides.

But living in France is not like this. The French - except for 'Les Riches' and some wild people in Paris - are thrifty. Shoppers wait for the annual winter and summer sales, and between these seasons everybody knows where to get 10 percent off everything.

All of the French money currently in circulation is going to have to be exchanged for the new 'euro' currency, beginning next 1. January. It is estimated that fully a third of all the money in the country is stashed under private mattresses in cash.

Basically this means that despite relatively modest wages, high prices and high taxes, the average Frenchman lives on two-thirds of his or her income.

Inflation is low and has been low for years. The quarter-million hired to fill time-gaps created by the 35-hour week are paying taxes and going shopping too. The governmentphoto: boules in luxembourg recycles some of this extra revenue to the lowest in the pay scales, and these people have a bit more to spend on value-added tax.

More Parisians in the Luxembourg - just fooling around.

Another non-statistic sign of how it is working positively are all the signs one sees in shop windows, seeking employees.

With the extra time on their hands, with the increased number of three-day weekends, more people are getting out more - and buying weekend places. The money is circulating more, and further around the country.

Of course, Charles is right. From a rock-bottom cost-line, France is going straight to bankruptcy on TGV rails. The French basically believe this too, because they never touch that cash under the mattresses.

But so what if the French are broke? Even if they can't afford to go to three-star restaurants every night, with the extra time off they can play with their kids for free.

And that is what a lot of them are doing. The kids love it.

Strike(s) of the Week

Strikes at national museums are stillphoto: louvre on strike, friday going on as I learned first-hand on Friday on a pass by the Louvre. There was free entry and free latin music for thoe in line, waiting to pass the red flags outside the Pyramid entrance.

Some of the Louvre's visitors luckily stand in lines for short times to get in free.
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