French employees in revolt over short hours

In
a move that supports arguments that the UK should be allowed to continue to opt
out from the Working Time Directive, French workers are rejecting the country’s
35-hour working week.

According
to a poll conducted for L’Expansion magazine, employees are growing
increasingly disaffected over the 35-hour week and are demanding the freedom to
work longer hours.

More
than 60 per cent of employees think the limit penalises French companies, and
more than half feel the legislation is encouraging companies to relocate
outside France.

Thirty-six
per cent of French workers want to see a return to their traditional working
week of 39 hours.

The
cut to 35 hours was introduced five years ago under socialist premier Lionel
Jospin.

The
European Union is currently reviewing the UK’s opt-out clause, which allows
employees to choose to work longer than the 48-hour maximum stipulated by the
Working Time Directive.

Mike
Emmott, employee relations adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and
Development, said the cost of limiting the working week in France, originally
carried by government, was now being passed onto employees.

“Some
of the financial strain is falling on the employee. They are enjoying the
freedom, they are getting time to go to the Alps, but the bill is being called
in and they can’t square the circle,” he said.

However,
TUC policy officer Paul Sellers argues that French workers are lucky to have
the luxury to debate whether they prefer the 35- or 39-hour week.

“The
priority [in the UK] is to end the opt-out,” he said. “We need to protect
people’s health and safety.”

By Quentin Reade

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