‘We just don’t work hard enough in France’

The head of France’s leading employers' association has once again risked the wrath of the country's workers by claiming they don’t work hard enough. His provocative statement comes after his group called for a cut in the number of public holidays.

'We just don’t work hard enough in France'
Workers in France do not put in enough hours. That's according to the country's business chief, anyhow. Photo: Shutterstock

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".

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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.