France’s most powerful trade union the CGT wants the country's sacrosanct labour reform – the 35-hour week – overhauled and replaced with a 32-hour limit.
While the idea of 35 hours a week (even though most people in France work more) is appealing to many around the world, for the CGT believes it’s just too long.
The union is now pushing for a 32-hour week which it claims will boost productivity and create and save jobs.
“The reduction in the working week would account for the advances in technology – whether digital or robots – that will eventually lead to many jobs disappearing,” the union argues.
Mohammed Oussedik, who is spearheading the CGT's campaign, said a move to 32-hours would also help improve equality as working hours are the biggest cause of inequality in France.
Not only that but it would help improve work-life balance, social progress and the health of employees.
CGT chief Philippe Martinez said the campaign was being launched amid a “general attack” on France’s 35-hour week.
That attack appears to be being led by the socialist government’s economy minister Emmanuel Macron, who has angered everyone from his own prime minister to unions by suggesting the sacrosanct labour reform is not set in stone.
The CGT’s idea of a 32-hour working week will no doubt be met with ridicule by many, given that the current 35-hour week is already criticised by many both inside and outside of France as being a major hold on the labour market.
But the union would get the support of one government minister.
Reacting to the news that France had just relaxed its rules around Sunday shopping to allow stores to open more often, Justice Minister Christiane Taubira revealed her perfect working week.
“I dream of a world where we don’t work on Sundays, where we don’t work either Saturdays or Sundays,” she told BFM TV.
“I dream of a world where we would only work 32 hours a week, so we can dedicate time to others, to read books and go to the theatre,” she said.
But others doubted whether a cut in working hours was really the best thing for France right now.
Catherine Le Yaouanc; general manager of the Franco-British Chamber of Commerce in Paris said: “In a growing worldwide competitive economic environment, a 32-hour week is bound to have a negative impact on the French economy, particularly when economic activity seems to be slowly recover as revealed by the French Economic Research Institute.
“Perhaps we should reflect on new ways of working in a digital world economy, with slightly more flexibility so as to adapt to the contemporary economic environment,” she told The Local.
France’s 35-hour week has stood the test of time and is almost considered untouchable, despite all the country’s economic problems.
A labour ministry report published last year revealed 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.