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French Lawmakers Approve of Longer Working Hours Measure

French legislators approved a measure championed by President Nicolas Sarkozy that would encourage people to work beyond the 35-hour work week by cutting taxes on overtime pay.

The measure, approved in a Wednesday session that lasted until early Thursday morning, is part of a sweeping economic package central to Sarkozy's plans to open the economy.

The lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, began debating the package on Tuesday, and the overtime measure was the first to be debated. The assembly was expected to vote on the full package later Thursday or Friday before sending it to the Senate next week.

The bill is almost certain to pass, as Sarkozy's conservative UMP party has a solid majority in the lower house.

Under the overtime measure, workers would not pay income tax or social charges on overtime hours, and employers would pay reduced payroll fees.

It applies to private and public sector workers, and would take effect Oct. 1, though the legal work week will remain 35 hours, said Finance Minister Christine Lagarde.

The measure is aimed at weakening, without abolishing, the 35-hour workweek, a landmark measure introduced by a Socialist government in 1999 to boost job creation. Opponents say it has dragged down growth and not increased employment, but it remains dear to many French leftists.

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