France May Let Workers WorkWorkers throughout France who have been clamoring to be allowed to work more hours in order to save up some extra money may get a chance. Last week French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin announced plans to reform the 35 hour work week, which some conservatives blame for contributing to unemployment rather than lowering it.
Part of the new reforms are allowing employees to increase their overtime, if they wish, from 3 hours per week to 4 (for a total of 39). Employees may also trade vacation time (they get 5 weeks minimum) for the equivalent pay if they do not wish to travel. While hailed by employers and some workers, unions are against the changes.
"We really want to work," said Jean-Paul Besson. "I worked in construction, my children need toys, and cheese. I cannot afford it since there are no jobs. They are forced to eat American cheese - they get teased at school."
"I would like some extra money," said Pierre Satre, a worker at a paper mill, "but the government won't let me work any more hours. Why can I not work if I want? I cannot afford the latest fashions with my current pay. The women - they all laugh at me. If I could work a few more hours, then I could afford a nice silk shirt."
At German auto supplier Robert Bosch's plant near Lyon, workers voted to increase the work week to 36 hours in order to avoid layoffs. "These men self-sacrificially agreed to work a whole extra hour per week without pay," said Dieter Bonhoff, manager of the plant. "I was so proud of them I cried. Who says the French cannot work hard?"
However, there is strong opposition to the reforms.
"The problem is not that we lowered the work week hours, the problem is that we did not lower them enough," said François Rebsamen, President of Le Parti Socialiste. "Instead of increasing the amount of overtime people can work, we should eliminate overtime altogether and lower the max hours per week to 20. While still giving them full benefits, it would force employers to hire twice as many people - that would fix our unemployment problem right away."
"No, we do not want to work," said Jacques Ruffino, who has been unemployed and living off government checks for 10 years. "I have a great life, I have no ties, I meet many beautiful women. Why would I want to work? I get healthcare and unemployment, and do nothing all day. It is my right! They cannot take it away!"
"These people have been brainwashed by the Americans," said Bernard Thibault, secretary general of the Confederation Generale du Travail. "Work, work, get ahead, that's all they care about, they do not care about their fellow man. If employees are allowed to ask for more hours, then employers will treat better those employees willing to work harder. For instance, they might give promotions based on merit instead of seniority.
"Even the unions in America are progressive enough to know this concept of 'merit' is evil."
"This is just another example of American hegemony," French President Jacques Chirac said. "They are even influencing our workers now. I will not allow the 35 hour work week to be tampered with. It is a symbol of the French concern for worker's rights and the French working spirit.
"Americans can keep their bootstraps. We wear Louis Vuitton."