The outspoken Pierre Gattaz, head of business group Medef, has been at it again.
After prompting severe rises in blood pressure rates among the country’s trade unions by suggesting the number of public holidays should be cut and the rules around the famous 35-hour week be loosened, Gattaz has stirred up another hornet’s nest.
On Thursday in an interview with BFM TV, he questioned the work ethic of his compatriots.
“It has to be said, we just don’t work hard enough in France,” said Gattaz.
“We are working 1661 hours per year in France compared to an EU average of 1850 hours, nearly 200 hours less a year. It’s a month and half less at work,” argued the president of France’s bosses' union.
His claims that French workers put in less hours than many of their European counterparts are backed up by a labour ministry report published last year which stated French workers put in an average of 39.5 hours a week in 2011, slightly behind the EU average of 40.3 hours and the 41-hour working week in Germany and 42.4 hours in the UK.
France is often ridiculed abroad for its famous 35-hour work week, but in reality most workers put in more hours. The difference with other countries is that they will be compensated with extra rest days or overtime if they pass the threshold.
For example the same labour ministry survey showed French middle-management worked an average of 44.1 hours a week.
Many argue that the 35-hour limit is actually a strength of France’s labour market as it allows for a better work-life balance for employees. Supporters also point to the fact that several studies suggest that French workers were actually more productive than their British and American counterparts.
For Gattaz and Medef however, the only way to achieve a cut in France’s record unemployment rates is to loosen the 35-hour week rules and scrap two public holidays a year.
"Getting rid of two public holidays per year would extend the average annual working year by 1.2 days, which represents 0.9 percent of gross domestic product and 100,000 extra jobs," MEDEF said this week as it unveiled its action plan to create one million jobs.
"Given the economic and social condition of our country, given the period of economic crisis we are suffering, given the dangers we have to overcome, the time for hesitation, procrastination and half-measures is over," said Gattaz.
The business leader also called for France’s 3,000-page labour code to be simplified.
Business leaders in the country were already familiar with a "fear of change" in France, he said.
Unions hit back at Medef's proposals, with the leader of the FO union, Jean-Claude Mailly, describing them as "unacceptable" and a "provocation".