Who says the French have a 35-hour week?

French workers have come in for criticism in recent weeks for their perceived shoddy work ethic, but a study published by the government last week suggested the condemnation might be a little unfair and they are actually working harder than we thought.

Who says the French have a 35-hour week?
Most French work longer than 35 hours each week, a new study shows. File photo: Victor1858/flcikr

Whether its an American CEO claiming they talk all day or Swiss recruitment firms saying they are lazy, French workers have come in for some unfair stick in recent weeks.

Perhaps much of the negative reputation French workers have around the world stems from the introduction of its famous 35-hour working week, which caused much ridicule in Anglo countries when it was introduced back in 2000.

But a recent survey published by France’s Labour Ministry suggests the reality is workers in France are putting in almost as much hard labour as the rest of us.

The survey, published by the ministry’s department of statistics (Dares), revealed that in 2011 full-time workers in France put in an average of 39.5 hours each week.

And it's even longer for those in management positions, known as "cadres", where the average working week stood at 44 hours in 2011, the Dares study revealed.

The statistics show the French are spending more time with their nose at the grindstone than before, with the length of the average working week having increased by 1.7 percent since 2003.

However the study shows that the French are still working less than almost every other nationality in the EU, where the overall average working week lasts 40.4 hours.

Andy Denison, who runs the consultancy site said: The 35-hour week is just how the jobs are formulated on contracts, it is not a legal maximum.

“In France you can actually work up to a maximum of 48 hours each week.  Most people will actually work more than 35 hours a week,” he told The Local.

Although in theory France has this official 35-hour working week, various measures have been introduced since it was brought in under Prime Minister Lionel Jospin 13 years ago that allow employers to bend the rules.

Workers have the right to work a certain amount of overtime and they are also granted RTT (Reduction de Temps Travail) days, which are basically extra days off a year to make up for the fact that employees are working more than the allotted time on their contract.

The number of RTT days can vary, but for some employees they can even amount to more days than some workers in the US are given as holidays.

French author Aurélie Boullet (alias Zoé Shepard) who has written a book on French working culture said anyone coming to work France should not expect to only work 35 hours a week.

“You cannot judge the amount of time the French work on the fact we have this law on the 35-hour working week,” Boullet told The Local.

“People should not have this image of France where everyone works 35 hours each week. It’s wrong, the reality is very different.

“The reality is some people in France have long working weeks and others don’t. It varies from job to job and sector to sector.

“As for those who say the French are lazy it’s not true. There are lazy people of every nationality and there are also workaholics in every country, too."

However, despite debunking one myth about France, the study from the Labour Ministry does show that the French are still working less than almost every other nationality in the EU, where the overall average working week lasts 40.4 hours.

France came in 21st out of the 27 countries, who were members of the EU in 2011. Only Ireland, Belgium, Finland, Holland, Italy and Denmark had a shorter average working week.

Top of the list with the longest average working week was Britain where employees slog away for an average of 42.2 hours.

However the positions in the league table change slightly when part-time workers are included.

Full and part-time workers in France work an average of 36.6 hours a week, longer than the average working week of EU nations which stands at 35.6 hours and longer than that of the UK, Germany, Austria and Sweden.

Do you work in France? Do you work a strict 35-hour week? Tell us about your experiences in the comments section below.

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How to get a summer job in France

As the summer holidays approach in France, many employers are looking for seasonal workers - so if you're looking for a summer job, here's how to go about it.

How to get a summer job in France

There are thousands of employment offers in France – a simple internet search for jobs d’été came up with numerous jobs boards offering work in France, while the government-backed Centre d’Information et de Documentation pour la Jeunesse (CIDJ) offers advice and information on all aspects of life for young people in France, including finding seasonal work and summer placements.

Sectors including agriculture, hospitality and tourism are always recruiting in the summer, seeking fruit-pickers, holiday camp workers and serving/hotel staff.

But what are the rules for people seeking summer jobs?

READ ALSO Vendange: What you really sign up for when you agree to help with the French wine harvest


Children from the age of 16 (under certain circumstances, the age limit drops to 14) who are legally resident in France can work as long as they have written authorisation from their parents or legal guardians. A model authorisation letter is available here

Those under the age of 18 cannot undertake certain jobs for health and safety reasons.

In the following circumstances, children as young as 14 or 15 can work during school holidays.

  • The holidays must last at least 14 days;
  • The child must work no more than half the days of the holiday – so, if a vacation period is two weeks, they can work for no more than one of those weeks;
  • The child is given ‘light duties’ that offer no risk to their safety, health, or development;
  • From the age of 15 and if the child has completed their troisieme education, a minor can register for an apprenticeship. 


Salary is usually paid monthly and will have a payslip. For those aged 18 and over, pay will be at least equal to the minimum wage.

 For those aged 14 to 17, who have less than six months’ professional experience, the minimum allowed rate is 80 percent of the minimum wage. For those aged 17 to 18, the rate rises to a minimum of 90 percent of France’s minimum wage.

  • The minimum wage in France is currently €10.85 gross per hour (€1,645.58 gross per month based on a 35-hour week);
  • the employment contract is fixed-term and can take different forms (fixed-term contract, seasonal employment contract, temporary employment contract, etc);
  • Seasonal employees are subject to the same obligations as the other employees of the company and have access to the same benefits (canteens, breaks, etc.).

Under 18s have certain additional protections:

  • between the ages of 14 and 16, during school holidays, employees on any contract cannot work more than 35 hours per week nor more than 7 hours per day;
  • They cannot work at night;
  • Those aged 14 to under 16 working during their school holidays can only be assigned to work which is not likely to harm their safety, their health or development.

Right to work in France

If you’re a French citizen or hold permanent residency in France then you have the right to work, but for foreigners there are extra restrictions.

Anyone who holds the passport of a EU/EEA country or Switzerland, is free to work in France or to travel to France seeking work without needing a visa or work permit.

Most other people will need permission to work in France – even if it’s only for a short period or for casual work such as grape-picking. Depending on your country of origin you may need a visa – everything you need to know about that is here.

In addition to the visa, you may also need a work permit, which is the responsibility of the employer.  To employ anyone in France for less than 90 days, an employer must get a temporary work permit – before the prospective employee applies for a short stay visa. This permit is then sent to the embassy at which the employee is applying for a visa.

If you come from countries including the UK, USA and Canada you can spend up to 90 days in France without a visa – but you may still need a work (convention d’accueil) if you want to work while you are here.

READ ALSO Six official websites to know if you’re planning to work in France

Certain countries have specific ‘seasonal worker’ visas on offer, for certain sectors which allows – for example – Canadians to come to France and work the ski season. 

Cash-in-hand jobs

Certain sectors which have a lot of casual workers – for example seasonal fruit-picking – do have cash-in-hand jobs, known in France as marché noir (black market) or simply travail au black (working on the black, or working illegally). 

This is of course illegal and working this way carries risks – as well as the possibility of losing your job if labour inspectors turn up you are also in a vulnerable position. If your employer suddenly decides not to pay you, or make unexpected deductions from your wages, there is very little you can do about it since you won’t have any kind of work contract.