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The Rise and Fall of France’s 35-Hour Workweek

Jonah right here. That is half II of a two half collection on working-time discount. Half I used to be printed final Friday and checked out latest experiments with a 4-day workweek. It additionally mentioned the results of France’s 35-hour workweek, established within the late 1990’s by the Plural Left authorities of Lionel Jospin. On this submit, I take a more in-depth have a look at the implementation and subsequent rollback of the 35-hours regulation (generally known as the Aubry Legislation, after Martine Aubry, Jospin’s Minister of Labor) since its introduction.

The proposal for a 35-hour authorized workweek was first introduced by the Jospin authorities within the fall of 1997. That proposal mirrored a long-standing demand for a shorter workweek pushed by sections of the labor motion, significantly the CFDT union confederation (French Democratic Confederation of Labor) and components of the Socialist Occasion (PS). However extra instantly, it represented an emergency try and counter excessive ranges of unemployment, at a time when the jobless charge had reached double-digits. By requiring firms to decrease full-time work hours and providing tax subsidies for people who made up the misplaced time via new hiring, the federal government hoped to kickstart job development. The thought, as one slogan put it, was to “work much less so extra can work.” As described within the first a part of this collection, that effort was largely profitable.

The Plural Left was hardly an alliance of wild-eyed radicals. Jospin was a long-time Socialist Occasion functionary, whose political strategy was average and technocratic. His finance minister, Dominique Straus-Kahn, was a neoliberal economist, and future IMF chief. Even Martine Aubry, Minister of Labor and namesake of the 35-hours laws, had till lately opposed mandating a discount in weekly work-hours. As soon as in workplace the brand new authorities pursued a collection of controversial privatizations. It later skilled deep inner divisions earlier than struggling a crushing electoral defeat in 2002.

But, this average administration handed a working-time reform that far outstripped any related measure by different European governments.

In France, struggles over the length of the workweek have been a constant theme of twentieth-century labor politics. But such calls for repeatedly ran up in opposition to the opposition of huge enterprise. In 1936, the Standard Entrance authorities launched laws establishing the 40-hour workweek, however the authorities’s plan quickly stalled within the face of stiff employer resistance. The demand for a 35-hour week was once more adopted by Socialist chief François Mitterrand within the run-up to his historic victory within the 1981 presidential election. In workplace, Mitterrand, who campaigned on the promise of “39 [hours pay] for 35 [hours of work],” backed up his pledge to shorten the authorized workweek to 39 hours throughout his first yr in workplace. However along with his authorities’s austerity flip in 1983, plans for a 35-hour week have been put aside. In subsequent years, a number of French governments tried to sponsor voluntary agreements on working-time, providing employers tax incentives in the event that they negotiated offers on decrease work-hours with unions. Nonetheless, this achieved solely marginal success, till the election of Jospin’s Plural Left in 1997.

The reforms to decrease the authorized workweek to 35 hours concerned two items of laws. The primary Aubry Legislation, launched in fall 1997, established 35 hours because the authorized norm for a full-time workweek, and set deadlines by which personal enterprises needed to implement this norm (by 2000, for companies with over 20 workers, and by 2002 for smaller companies). The regulation supplied tax credit to companies that reached offers on work-time discount and agreed to rent further personnel to make up the misplaced hours. It laid out procedures for the brand new measure through a mix of conventional sectoral bargaining and firm agreements. It established new guidelines protecting each worker compensation (supposed to stay the identical throughout the transition), and the way the reform was to be carried out.

The transition to the 35-hour workweek in every office relied on a whole lot of sectoral agreements and tens of hundreds of firm accords. Already, by the beginning of 1999, a authorities research discovered that 40 industry-wide agreements protecting roughly 5 million staff had been signed, in sectors starting from textiles to banking to metalworking (the place the employers’ federation took a tough line with unions representing the {industry}’s 1.8 million staff). The Aubry laws allowed the brand new statutory norm to be carried out in varied methods. In only a few industries was the precise length of labor set at 35 hours every week. As a substitute, the regulation inspired versatile preparations that compensated workers for time labored past the 35-hour threshold via further trip time, scheduled early launch days, and different strategies. To allow this, the regulation let firms calculate working-time as an annual whole, so an worker who labored extra time one week may very well be compensated with additional days off later. Absolutely the most was set at 44 hours in any given week (or a median of 42 in any 12-week interval), whereas annual extra time was capped at 130 hours.

Many observers have since argued that the 35-hours laws was not as favorable to staff as its proponents believed. In any case, by letting employers calculate working-time on an annual foundation, the legal guidelines created area to regulate weekly schedules and reorganize the work course of. Furthermore, as a result of it allowed agreements on working-time to be signed by non-union firm delegates, the regulation additionally helped additional the decentralization of collective bargaining. And it contributed to wage restraint amongst staff, with productiveness development outstripping pay will increase within the years that adopted. And for staff in some industries, the place the discount in working hours was not matched by new hiring, the regulation meant that workers needed to squeeze the identical duties into fewer hours.

However, most French staff regarded favorably on the reform. The majority of workers affected by the Aubry Legislation reported that it had strengthened their “work-life stability,” and improved working circumstances. In the meantime, the macroeconomic influence of the measure benefited the unemployed and low-wage staff. Thus, in early 2000, when the regulation got here into impact, polls confirmed a big majority of the general public, together with two-thirds of staff and low-level managers, supported the transfer. A survey that Could discovered that 83% of individuals thought the regulation had executed extra good than hurt.

Enterprise Opposition

The flip-side of this was the livid opposition the 35-hours regulation acquired from enterprise and the Proper. Since its passing, public assist for this norm has made it arduous for opponents to brazenly name for its repeal. As a substitute, their technique has been to regularly chip away on the 35-hour authorized customary, by turning it into little greater than a threshold for calculating extra time.
When the Aubry laws was first introduced, it provoked a direct backlash from enterprise leaders. Studying of the proposal at a authorities convention on unemployment, Jean Gandois, head of France’s enterprise federation — then generally known as the CNPF — stormed out of the assembly and gave his personal press convention the place he angrily denounced Jospin as an “authoritarian” who had tried to “idiot” him. By the tip of the yr, Gandois resigned, claiming he was “extra of a negotiator than a killer” and couldn’t lead the “guerilla warfare” wanted to cease the 35-hours regulation. Quickly afterward, the CNPF — the principle consultant of huge enterprise in France since 1945 — disbanded, and was subsequently reorganized below a brand new identify (MEDEF) and a brand new hardline management

On the native stage, the Aubry laws precipitated a spike in office conflicts. Whereas small companies struggled to implement the brand new guidelines, bigger enterprises tried to make use of negotiations on working-time to win beneficial properties on work-rules and wages, and enhance productiveness. Nonetheless, regardless of the final result of those native struggles, employer hostility to the brand new regulation was unabated. Massive enterprise above all needed the appropriate to recast the parameters of employment relations, via “social dialogue” with staff inside every firm. From their perspective, the Aubry Legal guidelines exemplified France’s inflexible and cumbersome labor-market rules.

The marketing campaign to roll again the 35-hour workweek started to realize necessary successes with the second Aubry Legislation. Launched by the Jospin administration in 1999, Aubry II was meant to fill gaps within the first regulation. However in its closing type, it additionally included necessary adjustments that weakened key provisions within the authentic laws. As one labor ministry official famous, the weaknesses of this second regulation have been a concession to enterprise strain. “The federal government watered down the regulation’s necessities to assist ease tensions with hostile components within the enterprise group.” After the Proper returned to energy in 2002, conservative governments launched a number of payments to erode the statutes on working-time. The cumulative impact of those measures was such that by 2008, an official in president Nicolas Sarkozy’s administration may announce “the ultimate dismantling of the 35-hour week.”

Since 2008, further reforms have additional “flexibilized” working-time guidelines, permitting companies to regulate work-hours with out new industry-wide agreements, enjoyable restrictions on the utmost length of labor, reducing the necessities for enterprise to barter concessionary agreements with worker representatives, and giving administration the appropriate to disregard work norms in durations of financial misery. Present President Emmanuel Macron’s administration has continued with this technique.

The federal government’s strategy was captured by Macron’s right-wing Inside Minister, Gerald Darmanin. In an interview, Darmanin argued that as an alternative of 1 nationwide customary, “We are able to work much less in some firms when there are fewer orders, or when there may be extra added worth, and we are able to work extra in some firms which have sufficient orders.” Darmanin insisted that the federal government is “not going to resolve working-time as Mrs. Aubry did previously.” As a substitute, “the boss should resolve along with his workers. We gained’t say from Paris what the work hours in a specific manufacturing facility should be.”

Right now, commerce unions and left events in lots of nations are once more elevating the thought of decreasing working-time to fight unemployment. In France, that proposal has the backing of a number of necessary voices, notably CGT union chief Philippe Martinez, president of the left-wing CGT union federation. Martinez has referred to as for a transfer to a 32-hour workweek, together with measures to guard employment requirements and require employers to make up for the lack of work-hours via new hiring. “That might open up new alternatives to rent and make the working circumstances of current workers. extra acceptable,” he says. Because the expertise of the Aubry Legal guidelines and the 35-hour workweek present, nonetheless, turning this imaginative and prescient into actuality requires confronting the ability of enterprise. That’s no simple activity.



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