France’s Hollande enrages opposition by scrapping 35-hour week

Jessica Hartogs, Special to CNBC.com
Francois Hollande and Manuel Valls
Chesnot | Getty Images

French president Francois Hollande is so determined to push ahead with his suggested labor reforms, he resorted this week to a rarely used law which allows for reform by decree.

By evoking Article 49 of the French constitution, despite nationwide protests from the public for months, Hollande and his cabinet pressed ahead with changes to the workforce that include scrapping France's 35-hour week, as well as making it easier for employers to hire and fire employees.

The move sparked criticism from various politicians including from inside his own Socialist party and resulted in the government facing a no confidence vote in the National Assembly on Thursday, introduced by parties of the right and aimed at toppling the government, reported the New York Times.

Although it is unlikely for the motion to succeed, Hollande's government would fall and the bill would be rejected if it does. If the motion fails, the bill will go to the Senate, according to the New York Times.

Will France say ‘au revoir’ to the 35-hour week?

Hollande and his government argue that these labor reform measures are necessary to fight France's high unemployment rate, which currently stands at an 18-year high of more than 10.2 percent with almost one in four under-25s unemployed, according to the European statistics service Eurostat.

The proposed measures give employers more scope to lay off workers and cut costs, allow some employees to work longer than a 35-hour week and make it easier to fire workers on economic grounds when companies run into difficulties.

The government says this would free up businesses to offer more permanent contracts. Currently, the majority of new French private sector jobs that are offered are on short-term contracts with little security. French employment law notoriously favors the employee in dismissal cases, making it very expensive for the employer to fire and therefore often wary of hiring.

Many blame France's high unemployment rate on this. However, although France sticks to its rigid 35-hour week, French productivity per hour remains far higher than Britain's and even a touch above Germany's, reported The Economist.

This is the second time Hollande's government resorts to using Article 49 – Prime Minister Manuel Valls used it last year to loosen restrictions on stores staying closed on Sundays.

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