Training news in brief

French Assembly votes to relax 35-hour work limit

The French National Assembly has effectively relaxed its 35-hour working week rule.

The assembly voted by more than two to one to allow up to 13 hours of overtime in addition to the 35 hours that French staff are allowed to work each week. This brings the working week up to the maximum 48 hours permitted under the Working Time Directive.

French employees had become increasingly disenchanted about the 35-hour week and its impact on productivity and have been demanding the freedom to work longer hours.

A poll conducted for L’Expansion magazine last September found that more than 60% of employees believed the limit penalised French companies, and more than half felt the legislation encouraged companies to relocate outside France.

The 35-hour week was introduced five years ago under socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin.

Canada’s balanced approach to union activities

Sweeping labour law changes in Canada’s largest province will grant Ontario’s government new powers, and rescind measures that have long aggravated unions and bosses.

The Labour Relations Statute Law Amendment Act empowers the Labour Relations Board to remedy conduct during union membership drives by granting union certification where employers violate labour laws, or by dismissing certification applications when the unions break the law.

The board can only do so when other remedies are insufficient. It can also reinstate workers fired or disciplined because of their union activities.

Most new measures simply inject balance into the rules. Unions, for example, are no longer required to disclose names, salaries and benefits of all directors, officers and employees earning more than Can$100,000 (43,211).

EC condemns lack of pay equality across Europe

The earnings gap between men and women in the EU is still too wide at 15%, the European Commission has said.

Its latest report on equality between men and women showed that, in 2003, the UK had one of the most unequal pay differentials at 22%, way ahead of France at 12% and Italy’s 6%.

Of the main EU countries, only Germany was worse, with men earning 23% more.

The report said that many more women worked part-time than men in the UK – 30.5% against 6.6% across the EU.

The report recommends a range of legislative and spending measures by European and national administrations to improve workplace equality.

These include more childcare facilities, pushing hard for the correct implementation of the EU’s employment sexual equality directive (which comes into force in October), and improving the generally poor pay earned by immigrant women.

Sexual banter can help give performance a boost

A University of Washington study reports that sexual banter in the workplace can help create a sense of belonging, and help people to have some control over their working conditions.

Author Kari Lerum gathered data while working at an upmarket restaurant, a strip club, and a family diner over 14 months, observing innuendos, puns, and references to sex acts among workers and supervisors.

The key is to understand the unique culture of each workplace, she said. “In some establishments there is general agreement on what sexual banter means, and it becomes part of the shared culture.”

Hierarchy figures strongly in distinguishing friendly exchanges from harassment, the study said. “Sexual banter is okay if people feel they are working in a safe environment and the banter is not disrespectful or a form of discipline,” Lerum said.

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