• France's news in English
How working life in France is set to change (for the worse?)
Photo: Robert Occhialini/Flickr

How working life in France is set to change (for the worse?)

Ben McPartland · 17 Feb 2016, 16:31

Published: 17 Feb 2016 16:31 GMT+01:00

France will soon begin debating a raft of reforms aimed at loosening some of France’s rigid labour laws and reducing some of the constraints on businesses.

The reforms are being drawn up by Myriam El Khomri, the country’s labour minister, who is due to present them to the government in March.

However a draft of her bill, which officially is still a work in progress, has been leaked to the French press and it reveals that she plans to make some changes that could significantly alter people’s working lives in France.

The publication in Le Parisien newspaper of the main points of the bill has caused an almighty stir in France and left most with the impression that while the symbolic 35-hour working will not be touched, many people could face longer hours at work.

(El Khomri's bill: The French risk working longer, reads the headline on the L'Express news site)

While there is still some way to go before what has been labelled a "pro-business" package of reforms comes into law given that it must pass through parliament, here’s a look at what could change:

Maximum working week

Firstly, the most important thing to note is what won’t change. Because it’s become sacred in France, the legal length of the working week won't budge and will remain forever and ever at 35 hours. After 35 hours, overtime is paid or extra days off are given (unless you’re a manager).

However as we all know, most people in France don’t work 35 hours a week, and it will soon become easier for companies to make staff work more. For example the maximum length of a working week will be extended to 46 hours from 44 hours.

And companies will be able to ask workers to put in 46 hours a week for a maximum of 16 weeks consecutively, instead of the current limit of 12 weeks.

In exceptional circumstances, the maximum time worked in a week can be 60 hours - or 12 hours per day - but in future the company won’t need to get permission from the state.

They will have to convince unions, but even if they can’t then they can simply hold a referendum among workers, in which they’ll need over 50 percent of votes.

Photo: Robert Occhialini/Flickr

When you’re on call

Those who work “on call” need to be ready to drop everything and well, work, at any minute. But in future, if the company does not actually call on the member of staff then it will simply be considered as rest time. Or in other words, it won’t be taken into account when it comes to calculating how much time you worked that week.


In France managers or “cadres” are not subject to the 35-hour week, meaning they work longer hours without the overtime pay or extra days off (RTT) as compensation.

The current law has a rule that forces managers to have 11 hours of rest between shifts. However that will ditched.

Salary and working hours changeable

In 2013, a set of agreements were painfully thrashed out and put into law which allowed companies going through difficult times to increase (within reason) the number of hours staff worked without increasing salaries - or even to reduce salaries slightly.

The reforms also allowed firms to re-jig employees’ working hours to be more productive although the changes were only allowed to be implemented for a limited time.

Story continues below…

However in future, it won’t just be companies in clear financial strife that will be allowed to introduce these changes, but even companies in good health.

They could do it if they are hoping to conquer new markets and hope to create new jobs. And those who don’t agree to the changes could face the sack, rather than just being laid off.

Cap on compensation for unfair dismissals

One of the most controversial changes is to limit the amount of compensation paid out those who were found to have been dismissed unfairly after an employment tribunal.

The minister plans to cap the pay-out to three months' salary, if the worker has less than two years of service, six months' salary for those who have worked between two and four years, nine months' salary for between five and nine years of service and 13 months for 10 to 19 years on the job. Over 20 years and it will be capped at 15 months' salary.

Referendums at work

While the reforms do not plan to ditch the principle of getting unions to give their seal of approval on changes at a company, the government plans to allow for referendums to take place in a company if unions refuse to agree to changes. If a majority of workers are in favour, unions will not be able to oppose it.

The right to switch off after work
France to give workers right to ignore emails after hours
Although it wasn't included in documents leaked to Le Parisien (and although it's definitely a change for the better and not the worse), stories emerged this week that the bill is set to include a law that gives workers legal protection to ignore work emails. Read more about it here
Trainees aged under 18 will be able to work up to 10 hours each day, instead of eight currently, to a maximum of 40 compared to the current 35 hours a week. And the employer will not need to seek permission from the state.

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
French fuel crisis latest: 5,100 petrol stations run dry
Photo: AFP

UPDATED: Some 40 percent of petrol stations have run dry in France.

Masked youths clash with police in Paris protest
Police and protesters also clashed in Paris last week. Photo: AFP

Labour protests in Paris have turned violent, again.

A complete guide to France's (many) ongoing strikes
All photos: AFP

A rundown of all the strikes in France today and in the coming days and weeks. Good luck.

Police raid McDonald's French HQ in tax probe
Photo: _Skynet/Flickr

French police have said that they raided the French headquarters of McDonald's in a tax probe.

Euro 2016
'You're not welcome': French police warn English yobs
England football fans burn a Tunisian flag in Marseille in 1998 during riots that marred the World Cup. Photo: AFP

French police tell English fans who might be heading to France to cause trouble: Don't bother.

Paris property prices gone mad? €50,000 for 3m² 'loft'
Ile Saint Louis. Photo: AFP

A sign of how mad property prices in Paris have become?

Readers' Views
French fuel strikes:  A tedious 'tantrum' or a 'sacred' duty?
Photo: AFP

The nationwide strikes and the fuel crisis have left France divided. Here's what you have had to say.

The French fuel crisis for dummies: 27 key questions
Photo: AFP

Everything you need to know about the French fuel crisis.

Good news from France: Unemployment rate falls again
Applicants talk to recruiters at a French jobs fair. Photo: AFP

Some much needed positive news for the French government

Five free smartphone apps to help you find petrol in France
Photo: CAFNR/Flickr

Looking for petrol in France? Here's how to find it with the help of your smartphone.

The French fuel crisis for dummies: 27 key questions
Sponsored Article
Eat, learn, live: unforgettable holidays in France
A complete guide to France's (many) ongoing strikes
Paris: Street artist makes the Louvre pyramid disappear
Interactive map: Where to find petrol in France
Who is the French union in a 'fight to the death' with the government?
Opinion: Why the French are absolutely right to go on strike
Here's why both sides despise France's labour reforms
Who is really to blame for the fuel crisis in France?
How to avoid running out of fuel if you're coming to France
Here are the parts of France hardest hit by the fuel shortages
It will soon be time to say 'au revoir' to the Paris Metro ticket
Revealed: The ultimate sex map of France
Migrants at Calais camp given dignity in death
How good is security at Charles de Gaulle airport?
How to make a traditional French cassoulet
IN PICS: Commuter trains in Paris get royal makeover
Terror attack 'likeliest cause' of missing EgyptAir plane
Who was on board the missing EgyptAir flight from Paris?
New map reveals Paris flat prices by Metro station
Paris: Here's how to find French cinema in English
How to say 'OUCH' in French (and ten other sounds)
Get ready: France to be hit by week of transport strikes
France readies for first national 'motorway party'
jobs available