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Is France's so-called 'Solidarity Day' a total sham?

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Is France's so-called 'Solidarity Day' a total sham?
Photo: AFP
09:00 CEST+02:00
Many workers in France will enjoy a day off on Monday, while many others will go to work as normal, except today they’ll work for free. Surely something is wrong here.

The name “Solidarity Day” couldn't sound more French.

But in fact "Solidarity Day", the alternative name for France’s Pentecost Monday public holiday, is more in name than nature and certain unions are not happy about it.

The issue is a little complex and dates back to the 2003 summer heatwave when 15,000 elderly French people died in sweltering temperatures.

After much soul searching and in a bid to improve the care for the elderly, the then French government decided that from 2005 Lundi de Pentecôte should no longer be one of France’s 11 annual public holidays.

Instead employees would go to work as normal except they would not earn anything – their wages being handed over to a fund that would be spent on care for the elderly and disabled. Hence Solidarity Day.

After three years of anger the idea was scrapped and Pentecost Monday was once again officially a public holiday. Companies could instead impose the Solidarity Day at any time of the year. 

Except now it is shrouded in confusion, with many companies still asking workers to come to work for free on Lundi Pentecôte, with their wages handed over to the state.

Other companies were able to negotiate their own “Solidarity Day” deals with employees like SNCF, which agreed workers would put in the equivalent of 1 minute 52 seconds more each day so they could still have the public holiday.

An architect firm in Paris is offering workers a choice. Either they come in and work free or they have the day off, but give up one of their annual days of holiday. Other companies just cover their employees' wages and give them the day off too.

Civil servants, post office workers and those who work in banks are all off.

Basically each year no one really knows who is working and who is not, nor where their money goes and whether the estimated €2.29 billion raised is really well spent.

A survey by Randstant in 2014 found that between 20 and 20 percent of workers turned up on Lundi Pentcôte.

“Is it right that a supermarket worker may be forced to work for a free on a holiday, while an employee with SNCF simply works one minute 52 seconds more so they keep their holiday?,” said a statement from the French Confederation of Christian Workers (CFCT) union.

“For some reason the self employed are exempt from this Solidarity Day,” the CFTC added sarcastically although their point was made that there is hardly égalité among workers.

The other issue is that many parents who have to work have trouble finding childcare because of course, teachers are off and schools are shut. Plus even getting to work is an issue because many transport workers are off.

Secondly where does everyone's wages go anyway?

The CFTC union said “the day brings in nothing” while Joseph Thouvenel, vice president of the CFTC was even more scathing.

“There is no ‘day of solidarity,’ it is nothing but PR,” he was quoted as saying the New York Times. “It has nothing to do with donated wages. That is a lie. It is a salary tax and that’s it. They just don’t have the courage to say so.”

The union agrees that the cause is worthy, but says real measures must be taken to improve care and resources for elderly people in France, not “unjust” and “discriminatory” measures.

Let’s hope, like us, you have the day off.

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