The French, it is agreed, like the 35-hour workweek, at least those who have jobs do. It’s also agreed the short workweek is not good for the economy. The center-right government of President Nicolas Sarkozy took office on a pledge to abolish that limit.
This week the head of the governing party pledged to end the 35-hour week, to the predictable cries of outrage from the socialists and the labor unions. He was quickly disavowed by his deputy, who happens to be a former prime minister, and ultimately by Sarkozy, whose idea it originally was.
The 35-hour week, down from 39 hours, was enacted 10 years ago by a socialist government as a way to increase employment. The idea was if workers worked less, employers would be forced to hire more of them. It didn’t work.
The French unemployment rate, although not as bad as it was, is still 7.5 percent, worse than the European Union average. And it proved a disincentive for employers to create jobs for those who needed them most, the army of idle, unemployed youth, especially males, in the sprawling immigrant suburbs.
The law has been amended to allow limited amounts of overtime by agreement between workers and their employers, and Sarkozy’s government moved to eliminate the payroll taxes on overtime.
As The New York Times notes, those who have benefited most from the shorter workweek are “employees with comfortable incomes who enjoy having more free time.”
As for those sons and daughters of North African immigrants, they’ll have to settle for having unlimited free time.