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EMPLOYMENT

French union wants 35-hour work week cut to 32

Forget the 35-hour week. It’s too long says France’s leading trade union, which has launched a campaign calling for a 32-hour week to create jobs and save posts under threat.

French union wants 35-hour work week cut to 32
Forget 35 hour week, France needs a 32 hour one. Photo: AFP
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.

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LABOUR

Macron to face nationwide public sector protests in March

French railways workers were urged Friday to join civil servants in a nationwide day of protest next month against President Emmanuel Macron's reform agenda in what will be a major test of strength.

Macron to face nationwide public sector protests in March
Photo: AFP
The leader of the country's biggest public-sector trade union, the CGT, called the rail protests on March 22 over plans by the government to remove some of the privileges enjoyed by workers on the train network.
   
The trigger was a major report recommending an overhaul of the debt-laden and loss-making SNCF rail system which was submitted to Macron's centrist government on Thursday.
   
“Rail workers will organise a national protest day on March 22 and of course rail workers will defend public services, their jobs and their status,” the head of the CGT Philippe Martinez told France Inter radio.
 
Civil servants are also set to demonstrate the same day over a proposed shake up that will see some workers offered redundancy packages and higher use of short-term contracts.
   
Macron wants to cut 120,000 public sector jobs over the course of his five-year term.
 
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Have France's ‘spoilt' civil servants just got it too easy?Photo: AFP

Previous protests
 
The 40-year-old leader faced a first series of demonstrations led by the CGT in September and October last year over his reforms to the labour code, which were unsuccessful in preventing the changes becoming law.
   
The victory for the government led to questions about whether the once fearsome French trade unions are still able to mobilise large crowds and cripple public services.

 
The demonstrations on March 22 coincide with the 50th anniversary of a major student protest at a university near Paris in 1968, a precursor to the nationwide strikes that roiled the country in May of the same year.
   
Large demonstrations and strikes are a common feature of French democracy and have repeatedly forced governments into policy U-turns in the past, but Macron has vowed to press ahead.
   
The most sensitive part of the rail report submitted on Thursday suggests that new railway workers should not be given the same historic employment privileges as their colleagues, such as early retirement and life-long job security.
   
“It's not illogical to say that if in the future you take on new employees they should have a pension that is the same as for other French people,” the head of Macron's Republic on the Move party, Christophe Castaner, said Friday.
   
Castaner said that on average France's 140,000 rail workers retire aged 57.5 years, compared with 62 in the private sector. Train drivers retire in their early 50s.
   
The rail reform report, prepared by the former head of Air France Jean-Cyril Spinetta, proposed 43 changes including the shutting of smaller loss-making rail links in rural areas.
   
He said that the state of the railways was “worrying” and highlighted annual losses of 3 billion euros ($3.7 billion).
   
The rail network's ever rising debt will reach 50 billion euros in 2018, the report said.