In March French lawmakers said au revoir to the country’s 35-hour workweek allowing employers to increase working hours - and pay - as the country struggles with high unemployment and stagnating living standards. The 35-hour week, a flagship policy of the former Socialist-led government that gave many people more time off but added to concerns about France’s declining global competitiveness. The bizarre policy went into effect on a trial basis in 1998 and was made mandatory two years later supposedly to force employers to hire more people.
Labor Unions were quick to demand the same pay for a 35-hour week that employers had paid for a 40-hour week. That’s the rub in ending the reduced work week. A parliamentary committee reported that the 35-hour week cost France more than $13 billion a year, casting doubt on a labor ministry study that suggested it had created 350,000 jobs between 1998 and 2002.
A 2003 study of 25 industrialized countries found only Norwegian and Dutch employees worked less time each year than the French, who worked an average 1,431 hours. German workers put in 1,446 hours, British 1,673 hours, Americans 1,792 hours and Koreans 2,390 hours. The policy is slowly changing but the first indication is French productivity is already trending up.